Much Delayed Veteran SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches Overnight Carrying 60 Starlink Satellites and Disappears Behind Thick Clouds

Much Delayed Veteran SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches Overnight Carrying 60 Starlink Satellites and Disappears Behind Thick Clouds
SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off at 3:24 a.m. ET on March 4, 2021 from Launch Complex-39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida but quickly disappears behind thick low clouds and ground haze carrying next batch 60 Starlink broadband internet satellites to LEO. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

TITUSVILLE, FL – The much delayed liftoff of a veteran SpaceX Falcon 9 booster finally took place overnight in the wee hours this morning Thursday March 4 and quickly disappeared behind a thick layer of low clouds and from Florida’s Spaceport and successfully delivered the next batch of 60 Starlink internet satellites to low Earth orbit.

The middle-of-the-night blastoff of the flight-proven Falcon 9 occurred during an instantaneous launch window at 3:24:54 a.m. EST (0824:54 GMT)  from Launch Complex-39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

SpaceX Falcon 9 disappears into a 700-foot cloud deck as it sends the latest batch of Starlink internet satellites into orbit at 3:24 a.m. ET on March 4, 2021 from Launch Complex-39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: SpaceX

Because of the low clouds at less than 1000 feet and ground haze we only saw the rocket for less than about 10 seconds before at was rapidly hidden from view behind the white clouds that completely obscured and further views of the rocket flames.

Not a star was to be seen by the total white out. Nonetheless we did hear the tremendous roar of the engines about a minute after launch.

Hidden Streak! Only the ignition blob is seen here in the long exposure fisheye streak shot after liftoff SpaceX falcon 9 booster 1049.8 on 8th flight at 3:24 a.m. ET on March 4, 2021 from Launch Complex-39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida with 60 Starlink broadband internet satellites – then quickly and completely disappeared behind low clouds (<1000 ft) and thick haze in about 10 seconds or less. Sky was a total white out not a star to be seen. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Eight and a half minutes after liftoff the Falcon 9 first stage designated as B1049.8 also accomplished its eighth trip to space and back by nailing the soft landing on the sea going droneship ‘Of Course I Still Love You’  (OCISLY) in the Atlantic Ocean – thereby setting up a record setting ninth launch in the not too distant future.

Overall this mission marked the 75th landing by land or by sea.

OCISLY was prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean of the coast of the Carolina’s some 400 miles (640 km) northeast of the launch site.

The SpaceX fleet of fairing recovery ships GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief were also dispatched to the recovery zone.

The Falcon 9 first stage rocket booster supporting this mission previously flew on seven missions including the Iridium-8 mission, Telstar 18 Vantage and five Starlimk missions.

Recycling the 1st stage boosters many times has enabled SpaceX to maintain a rapid launch cadence of nearly 3 launches per month last year and even more planned this year.

The payload fairings are also recycled. One  half previously flew on three Starlink missions and the other half flow on two Starlink missions.

This launch of what is now the 20th Starlink mission designated as V1 L17  was delayed numerous times mostly for technical reasons and also for poor launch and booster recovery weather from the original launch period of late January.

SpaceX Falcon 9 raised vertical at Launch Complex-39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida – for Starlink launch retargeted to Mar 4, 2021. As seen from Cape Canaveral National Wildlife Refuge, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

The most recent delay took place Sunday evening Feb 28 with an auto-abort at T Minus 1 min 24 seconds as a nearly full Moon was rising over the Florida Space Coast.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket was rolled out to pad 39A and then raised and lowered several times for troubleshooting over the past month

As a result of all the delays two other Falcon 9 Starlink missions launched from pad 40 in February 2021 before this one from pad 39A – which was originally to be the 18th Starlink mission.

What would have been a magnificent nighttime display of rocket fire and fury commenced as the 9 Merlin 1D first stage engines roared to life and ignited with 1.7 million pounds of liftoff thrust fueled by liquid oxygen (LOX) and RP-1 propellants.

The Falcon 9 flew off on a northeasterly trajectory.

Liftoff video tweeted by SpaceX:

The 60 Starlink satellites deployed from the upper stage as planned just over an hour after liftoff at 4:29 a.m. EST (0929 GMT) while flying 172 miles (278 kilometers) above Earth just south of New Zealand.

SpaceX confirmed deployment of the Starlinks with this video tweet from their live webcast:

Following this latest 20th batch this brings the total number of Starlink satellites launched to 1,205 internet satellites.  That includes earlier prototypes mostly from the first launch as well as the 10 Starlink sats launched to polar orbit on the last Falcon 9 launch on Transporter-1 mission on Jan. 24. Check out our story and photos.

The actual number of Starlink satellites is estimated to be at least 60 less due to some earlier versions being intentionally deorbited due to malfunctions or other reasons.

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell keeps a running tally of Starlink at this page:

https://planet4589.org/space/stats/megacon/starbad.html

The 500 pound flat panel Starlink satellites are manufactured by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington.

The new mission thus fortifies the Starlink constellation of relay satellites that one day upcoming will offer a competitive alternative to existing broadband services across North America – including the US and Canada

“If you’re interested in service, we recently started taking orders on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve your spot in line, head over to starlink.com for more information,” says SpaceX

Starlink offers high sped low latency internet connectivity initially in rural areas at first with little or no service – but that is now expanding across the US and eventually globally with well in excess of 12,000 satellites, says CEO Elon Musk

To see if Starlink is available in your area, visit starlink.com.

As a result of technical problems with the rocket SpaceX decided to conduct two static fire tests after successfully completing the first one on. Jan. 31.

SpaceX conducts successful static fire test of Falcon 9 first stage engines at 2:00 p.m. ET on Jan. 31 with exhaust spewing out from the flame trench at Launch Complex-39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida – for 18th Starlink launch now retargeted to March 4, 2021 – as seen from Cape Canaveral National Wildlife Refuge, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

My static fire test photos were featured on WKMG CBS 6 Orlando TV News on multiple broadcasts.

Photo of SpaceX successful static fire test of Falcon 9 first stage engines at 2:00 p.m. ET on Jan. 31 at Launch Complex-39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida – featured at WKMG CBS 6 Orlando News. For 18th Starlink launch retargeted to Feb. 3, 2021 at 5:57 a.m. ET. As seen from Cape Canaveral National Wildlife Refuge, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com/WKMG CBS 6 Orlando

The next SpaceX Starlink launch is NET Monday evening March 8 at about 10:20 p.m. EST from pad 40.

Todays launch was the 6th Falcon 9 launch of the year by SpaceX.

The prior Starlink launch took place from seaside Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on February 16.

SpaceX Falcon 9 roars to orbit carrying next batch 60 Starlink broadband internet satellites to LEO on 19th Starlink mission to date at 10:59 a.m. ET Feb. 15. 2021 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida – with water reflections in Cape water. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

After the booster landing failed SpaceX temporarily put launches on hold to investigate the root cause.

Watch Ken’s continuing reports about Starlink, Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, Artemis and NASA missions, SpaceX, Commercial Crew Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2, Demo-2, ISS, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com

Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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Ken Kremer

Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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