Starlink 9 | Falcon 9 Block 5

SpaceX will launch 57 Starlink satellites and 2 BlackSky Global satellites on their Falcon 9 rocket. It’s launching no earlier than August 7, 2020, from Launch Complex-39a (LC-39a) at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Starlink 9, is the ninth operational launch of SpaceX’s Starlink communication satellite constellation.

Lift Off Time
(Subject to change)
August 7, 2020 – 05:12 UTC | 01:12 EDT
Mission Name and what it is
  • Starlink 9: the ninth Starlink v1.0 launch
  • BlackSky Global 5 and 6
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
SpaceX
Customer
(Who’s paying for this?)
  • SpaceX 
  • SpaceFlight industries
Rocket
Falcon 9 Block 5 B1051.5
Launch Location
Launch Complex-39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Payload mass
17,830 kg (57 x 260 kg, plus dispenser, plus 2 x 55 kg BlackSky sats)
Where are the satellites going?
Low-Earth Orbit 550 km (Initially 210 x 366 km)
How’s the weather?
The weather is currently 70% go for launch (as of  12:00 UTC, August 6)
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
Yes 
Where will the first stage land?
634 km downrange on SpaceX’s drone ship Of Course I Still Love You
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
SpaceX will be attempting to catch the fairings on their recovery vesicles
Are these fairings new?
Yes
This will be the:
  • 90th flight of a Falcon 9
  • 57th booster landing
  • 39th re-flight of a booster
  • 3rd time a booster has flown 5 times
  • 13th mission for SpaceX in 2020
  • First non-Dragon Falcon 9 Block 5 launch from LC-39a at night
Where to watch 
SpaceX Livestream

Maybe for even more fun you can watch with Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut starting at T minus 30! Come ask questions and join the conversation live!

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 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, they hope, will help finance SpaceX’s plans to colonize Mars.

Starlink satellites and dispenser.
Starlink satellites loaded into their dispenser, awaiting encapsulation into the Falcon 9’s payload fairing. (Credit SpaceX)

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 BlackSky Global?

BlackSky Global is Spaceflight Industry’s global constellation of Earth-imaging satellites. The constellation provides costumers with hourly images with 1 meter of resolution. BlackSky’s goal is to have a constellation of 60 satellites with a sub-1 meter resolution, providing customers with images 4 times per hour.

starlink
BlackSky sat 1 and 2 before being launched. (Credit: Spaceflight Industries)

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 87 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 88th 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)

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 1051

The booster supporting this mission is B1051. To prepare for the launch, the booster will be static fired at LC-39a three to seven days beforehand. Previously,  this booster stage’s debut was on Demonstration Mission-1, or DM-1, on March 02, 2019. Its second flight was launching the most expensive commercial payload ever, the RADARSAT constellation, on June 12, 2019.  Next, it flew on the third operational Starlink v1.0 launch, on January 29, 2020. Finally, it last flew on the sixth operational Starlink launch, on April 22, 2020. In conclusion, Starlink 9 will be its fifth flight, which changes the booster’s designation to 1051.5.

Fairing Reuse

SpaceX is the first company to recover and reuse fairings. Go Ms. Tree and Go Ms. Chief will be attempting to catch the fairing halves, with each ship being able to scoop a half out of the water incase the catch attempt fails.

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 635 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)
00:02:33                   1st stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
00:02:36                   1st and 2nd stages separate
00:02:43                   2nd stage engine starts (SES-1)
00:03:24                   Fairing deployment
00:06:40                   1st stage entry burn complete
00:08:24                   1st stage landing
00:08:51                    2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)
00:47:18                    2nd stage engine starts (SES-2)
00:47:21                    2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)
01:01:32                    BlackSky 5 deployment
01:06:47                    BlackSky 6 deployment
01:32:54                    Starlink 9 satellite deploy

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

12 comments
  1. Hello Tim. Why has Starlink 9’s mission been delayed?

    Kind regards Sebastiaan

  2. Tim,

    GREAT channel. SpaceX has a pretty good track record of poking fun at itself, but I’m rather surprised about this delay. Was all set to watch the launch, set my iphone to 13:15 pacific time and the youtube link wasn’t there any more.

    So the official line is:
    “Standing down from today’s Starlink mission; team needed additional time for pre-launch checkouts, but Falcon 9 and the satellites are healthy.” Sounds like a Soviet style TASS report.

    Did somebody forget to bring the matches ? Perhaps a technician after a long night of partying forgot about the “REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT” covers. We can only speculate, but whatever it is, it sounds pretty embarassing to me. But never mind. As Mom used to tell me (often), ” The only people who don’t make mistakes are God and people who do nothing”.

    Living in rural America, and getting a whopping 9Mb/s for $100/month, you can’t imagine how much I’m rooting for these launches.

    PS. I do wish SpaceX would change their wimpy 5-4-3-2-1 intro to the awesome “Thunderbirds are go 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1.” Check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfIAKj3Gl1E
    Brian

  3. How come on spacex website, it says that it is the tenth starlink mission not the ninth?

    1. This is rather confusing and SpaceX itself is to blame as they count the launch of 60 “test” satellites on 2019-05-24 (considered v0.9) to be a flight or launch, BUT they didn’t start at L1 until the next launch (v1.0 L1) on 2019-11-11. So, this is officially Starlink v1.0 L9, but it’s the 10th “flight” of a full rack of satellites. Even more confusing is that they don’t count the first launch of 2 test satellites alongside Tintin A and B on 2018-02-22, but that mission wasn’t primarily for Starlink.

      It’s hard to determine whether this is the 9th or 10th launch of “operational” satellites as the v0.9 launch did use so-called “production” satellites, but they have no inter-satellite comms and can talk only to the ground. At some point, we’ll have to stop talking about launch numbers and just use Starlink’s mission titles.

      So, Flight #10 is actually “Starlink v1.0 L9”. It is, however, the 10th launch of a full rack of Starlink satellites. Now we can’t even say a rack of 60, since they are adding other payloads and removing a few Starlinks to make up the difference. I’m just going to call this a “rack” of Starlinks .

      1. This does not account for the memory foam that fills the space within the satellites. When this hits the market it will be the first launch of such rocket, after the Japanese L-4S in the late-1960s. So taking this into account we will see great developments in this area during the next couple of years. Exciting times surely!

    2. The reason this is considered SpaceX’s 10th Starlink mission even though it is named “Starlink 9” is because the mission names started with “Starlink Demo.” Falcon 9 launched 60 test satellites in May of 2019.

  4. This launch has been delayed again as of July 11, 2020. Their explanation makes little sense considering that the launch has already been delayed multiple times, but they probably now want to prepare for the ANASIS-II launch opportunity on July 14.

    “SpaceX is standing down from its Saturday, July 11 launch attempt of its tenth Starlink mission to allow more time for checkouts. “

    1. It is the 10th starlink launch, but the 9th operational. We are going by the operational naming scheme.

  5. Hopeful that we finally get to see Starlink 9 launch today! Excited for the livestream

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