Starlink 8 leaving the pad with orange smoke

Starlink 8 | Falcon 9 Block 5

What’s All This Mean?

SpaceX’s Starlink 8 mission will launch 58 Starlink satellites on its Falcon 9 rocket. Along with the primary Starlink payload, SpaceX will be launching three of Planet Lab’s Sky Sat Earth-observation satellites. It’s launching at 09:21 UTC on June 13, from Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS), Florida. Starlink 8 is the eighth operational launch of SpaceX’s Starlink communication satellite constellation.

Lift Off Time
(Subject to change)
09:21 UTC June 13, 2020 | 05:21 a.m. EDT
Mission Name and what it is
  • Starlink 8: the eighth Starlink v1.0 launch
  • SkySat 16-18: Planet Lab’s 16th, 17th, and 18th Earth Imaging Satellites
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
SpaceX
Customer
(Who’s paying for this?)
  • SpaceX 
  • Planet Lab
Rocket
Falcon 9 Block 5 B1059.3
Launch Location
Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40),  CCAFS (will become CCSFS soon!), Florida
Payload mass
18,340 kg (58 x 260 kg, plus dispenser, plus 3 x 120 kg Sky Sat) ~41,000 pounds
Where are the satellites going?
Low-Earth Orbit 550 km (Initially 210 x 366 km)
How’s the weather?
Currently the weather is 70% go for launch
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
Yes 
Where will the first stage land?
About 630 km downrange on SpaceX’s drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY)
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
SpaceX will attempt to recover both fairing halves
Are these fairings new?
No! One fairing half flew on the JCSAT-18/KACIFIC-1 mission, and the other flew on Starlink V1.0 L2
This will be the:
  • 87th flight of a Falcon 9
  • 1st SpaceX rideshare mission
  • 1st Falcon 9 flight with no static fire beforehand
  • 54th booster landing
  • 37th re-flight of a booster
  • 4th refight of a fairing
  • 10th mission for SpaceX in 2020
Where to watch 
SpaceX Livestream 

The Everyday Astronaut and NASA teams strongly recommend everyone to stay at home during the pandemic. Please obey all local, state, and federal guidelines. Enjoy the mission with us from the comfort of your home!

 

Starlink is SpaceX’s communications satellite program. The Starlink satellite constellation will deliver a fast, low-latency broadband Internet service to locations where access is unreliable, expensive, or unavailable. SpaceX expects that a private beta of Starlink will begin in two to three months, with a public beta in six months. As of now, the Starlink constellation covers the Northern United States and Canada.  The company estimates that once complete, its venture will make $30-50 billion annually. The Starlink revenue will help finance SpaceX’s ambitious Starship program.

 
Starlink 7 in Falcon 9
58 Starlink satellites and 3 SkySat satellites awaiting final encapsulation in Falcon 9’s fairing. (Credit: PlanetLabs)

Each Starlink version 1.0 satellite is a compact design that weights 260 kg. SpaceX developed them to be a flat-panel design to fit as many satellites as possible within the Falcon 9’s 5.2 meter wide payload fairing. 60 satellites fit into a dispenser affixed to the second stage. The entire Starlink payload weights around 15,600 kg. That’s near the limit that a Falcon 9 can lift into LEO and still have enough propellant for landing.

For such small satellites, each one comes loaded with high-tech communications technology. There are six antennas, four high-powered phased-array and two parabolic ones that all support high-speed data throughput. Starlink also features a SpaceX built and designed star track navigation system to enable precision placement of broadband throughput.

Four inter-satellite laser links (ISLLs) allow high-speed communication between Starlink satellites. SpaceX placed two ISLLs on the front and rear of the satellite to talk with Starlink satellites in the same orbital plane. They remain fixed in position. Two ISLLs on the satellite’s sides track other Starlink satellites in different orbital planes. This means they have to move to track the other satellites.

Ion Power

Innovative ion propulsion technology keeps these satellites in the correct position while on orbit. They use ion Hall-effect thrusters to achieve their working orbit, to maneuver while on-orbit and, at end of life, deorbit them. According to SpaceX, Starlink is the first krypton propelled spacecraft ever flown.

Becoming space junk is not in the cards for these satellites. Each Starlink satellite incorporates an autonomous collision avoidance system. It uses the Department of Defence’s debris tracking data to avoid colliding with space debris or other satellites. When they come to the end of their useful life, they will deorbit and completely burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

 

An image of the globe covered by Starlink orbital track tracings
Starlink covering the globe. Credit: SpaceX
 

Constellations use multiple satellites working in conjunction for a common purpose. SpaceX plans eventually to form a network of about 12,000 satellites. They will operate roughly 4,400 satellites using Ku- and Ka-band radio spectrum, and almost another 7,500 satellites in the V-band.

To achieve initial coverage, Starlink will use 72 orbital planes, angled at 53 degrees from the Earth’s equator at an altitude of 550 km. They will put 22 satellites into each of these orbital planes, totalling 1,584 satellites. They will communicate with other Starlink satellites and with ground stations, akin to a mesh network.

In late 2019, the company asked the American Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for permission to launch an additional 30,000 satellites into orbits ranging from 328 km to 580 km in altitude. If the FCC okays the request, the constellation could grow to 42,000 satellites. This would increase the number of operational satellites in Earth orbit by at least a factor of 20 from pre-2019 levels.

The constellation’s large numbers are raising concerns regarding their effect on the night sky and Earth-based astronomy. However, Elon Musk stated that he is confident that SpaceX can mitigate light pollution issues and is working with industry experts to minimize the potential for any impact. Starting on the ninth operation Starlink mission, the satellites will use a sunshade that is a patio-like umbrella to reduce light reflectivity.

What is a SkySat Satellite?

SkySat is a constellation of Earth observation satellites built and operated by Planet Labs. There are currently 15 SkySats in a 500 km SSO. Each satellite about an 80cm large cube, with a mass of 120 kg. These satellites provide a resolution of less than a meter. The SkySat constellation is used to monitor the movement of goods and people, allowing for data to gained and used to optimize supply chains, shipping, plant activity, and human relief efforts.

Sky Sat Starlink mission
An artist’s rendering of four SkySats in orbit. (Credit: SpaceFlight101)

What is Falcon 9 Block 5?

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket first flew in 2010. Since that time, Falcon 9 has flown for a total of 86 times. 84 of those launches being fully successful, one partially successful (CRS-1), one ground anomaly (AMOS-6), and one in-flight failure (CRS-7). Starlink 8 will be the launch vehicle’s 87th flight. Over the years, it has gone through several upgrades and iterations, not including the Falcon Heavy. The current version is the Falcon 9 Block 5, introduced in 2018 and is now the main version in operation today.

The Block 5 is the final iteration of the Falcon 9 and rated to carry humans into space. Block 5’s goal was to apply all the lessons that SpaceX learned into a human-rated, reusable rocket, capable of sending Crew Dragon into orbit. Initially, Falcon 9 is Starlink’s primary carrier rocket, with Starship expected to supplant it.

Falcon 9 rocket launching a Starlink mission.
Falcon 9 rocket launching a Starlink mission. Credit: Tim Dodd, Everyday Astronaut.

Human-rating

The first change NASA required to human-rate the Falcon 9 was to put it into a design freeze. Before Block 5, no two Falcon 9s were the same, according to a SpaceX representative. Because of these continual improvements, NASA required SpaceX to fly seven missions in a row with no changes to the launch vehicle.

The second major change required the addition of a redesigned carbon over-wrapped pressure vessel (COPV). It was COPVs in the upper stage that caused the two previous Falcon 9 failures (AMOS-6 and CRS-7).

Reusability Tweaks

There were also many modifications in the Block 5 booster stage related to better reusability that were not critical for human-rating. SpaceX reinforced the landing legs, upgraded the grid fins, added a carbon fiber interstage, added a heat resistant external paint, and upgraded the engines. For more information about the changes in Block 5, and the other Blocks of the Falcon 9, check out this video by the Everyday Astronaut:

Tim Dodd, The Everyday Astronaut, explaining all the versions of the Falcon 9 rocket, from Version 1.0 to the Block 5. (Click on the image to watch the video)

Falcon 9 Booster 1059

The booster supporting this mission is B1059. Unlike every other Falcon 9 launch, the booster was not static fired ahead of this mission. Previously,  this booster stage’s debut was on CRS-19, on December 5, 2019. Its last flight was CRS-20, on March 06, 2020. In conclusion, Starlink 8 will be its third flight, which changes the booster’s designation to 1059.3.

Fairing Reuse

SpaceX is the first company to recover and reuse fairings. It is expected that both fairings halves will be attempted to be recovered for this mission; one half on Go Ms. Tree and the other on Go Ms. Chief. If unsuccessful, the fairings will be scooped out of the water, but can still be reused.

A crane removes a fairing segment from SpaceX’s Go Navigator. Credit: Lupi.

 

After boosting the second stage, along with its Starlink payload towards orbit, the first stage will perform an entry burn. The purpose for the burn is to slow the vehicle down to prepare it for atmospheric reentry. The booster will then land approximately 630 km downrange aboard SpaceX’s Autonomous Spaceport Done Ship (ASDS)  Of Course I Still Love You.

 

Countdown*

Hr/Min/Sec              Event


– 00:38:00                 SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load.
– 00:35:00                 RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading underway.
– 00:35:00                 1st stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading underway
– 00:16:00                 2nd stage LOX loading underway
– 00:07:00                 Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch
– 00:01:00                 Command flight computer to begin final prelaunch checks
– 00:01:00                 Propellant tank pressurization to flight pressure begins
– 00:00:45                 SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch
– 00:00:03                 Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start
– 00:00:00                 Falcon 9 Liftoff

Launch, Landing, and Satellite Deployment**

Hr/Min/Sec              Event


00:01:12                    Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
00:02:32                   1st stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
00:02:36                   1st and 2nd stages separate
00:02:43                   2nd stage engine starts
00:03:11                    Fairing deployment
00:07:03                   1st stage entry burn complete
00:08:42                   1st stage landing
00:08:53                   2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO)
00:12:34                   SkySat-18 deployment
00:13:04                   SkySat-17 deployment
00:13:34                   SkySat-16 deployment
00:26:00                  Starlink satellites deploy

* Although Starlink’s launch window is officially instantaneous, previous Starlink missions had 90-minute launch windows.
** All times are approximate

2 comments
  1. Hey, you should add that this would be the first time they share a Satrlink ride with another customer´s sats.

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