For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, FL – SpaceX achieved another astounding rocket reusability milestone with the record-setting 10th launch to space of the fleet-leading Falcon 9 first stage booster B1051 during a magnificent middle-of-the night vault to orbit with 5 dozen Starlink internet satellites on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 9 from Florida’s Spaceport
The dawn of Mother’s Day liftoff coincidentally coincided with the looming fall to Earth of the out-of-control Chinese Long March 5B core stage just hours prior and just 1.5 hours after the conclusion of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s hosting gig on the SNL comedy show airing live on NBC.
The spectacular middle-of-the-night blastoff of the Starlink L27 mission on the now 10th times ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 first stage B1051 took place at 2:42 a.m. EDT, or 0642 GMT from from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida during an instantaneous launch window on May 9.
Eight and a half minutes later the super veteran stage nailed the propulsive upright soft landing on SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” (JRTI) droneship, which has been prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Carolina’s.
And the weather cooperated fully with virtually no cloud cover and a very long view of the rocket traveling in a northeasterly trajectory and arcing over to match Earth’s orbit.
“First time a Falcon rocket booster will reach double digits in flights,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted before liftoff
First time a Falcon rocket booster will reach double digits in flights https://t.co/wrojsaGExZ
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 8, 2021
The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 flew into virtually clear nighttime skies with barely a wisp of clouds and successfully lofted the 27th Starlink internet satellite mission with five dozen Starlinks encapsulated inside the recycled nose cone to low Earth orbit (LEO) from Florida’s Spaceport.
All 9 Merlin 1D first stage engines ignited to generate approx. 1.7 million pounds of liftoff thrust fueled with liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants that began propellant loading at T Minus 35 minutes.
SpaceX webcast the Starlink L27 mission live beginning about 15 minutes prior to liftoff.
Enjoy our photos of the Falcon 9 launch and prelaunch of the rocket taken by the Space UpClose team of Ken Kremer and Jean Wright.
Check back as the gallery grows.
Sunday’s liftoff counts as the tenth flight of the Falcon 9 first stage rocket booster B1051 supporting missions, which previously launched Crew Dragon’s first demonstration mission (Demo-1) to the International Space Station (ISS) in March 2019, the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, SXM-7, and six Starlink missions – most recently in March 2021.
Both of Falcon 9’s fairing halves also previously flew on the GPS III Space Vehicle 04 mission.
Both the recycled booster and recycled payload fairings are rather blacked from soot as seen from our prelaunch photos taken during remote camera setup at pad 40.
Sunday’s nighttime liftoff used the flight-proven 1st stage booster designated B1051 which is one of the oldest in operation and has now flown to space and back 10 times – and sets up the prospect for an unprecedented 11th flight at some point in the future.
When that might happen is TBD.
To this point only one other Falcon 9 booster in the fleet has flown and been recovered successfully 9 times – last weeks launch of the L25 mission on May 4 using booster B1049.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said at a NASA Crew-2 media briefing last week that SpaceX is using the Starlink launches to push the envelope on reusability of the Falcon 9 first stages until one breaks down since the company manufactures their own satellites and thereby avoids risking outside customer payloads
“There doesn’t seem to be any obvious limit to the reusability of the vehicle,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, said at the April 23 NASA press briefing after the Crew-2 launch.
“We do intend to fly the Falcon 9 booster until we see some kind of a failure with the Starlink missions, have that be a life-leader,” Musk said at the briefing. “We’re learning a lot of about reusability. It’s a hard problem for rockets.”
Musk also said the first booster to fly 10 times is upcoming soon! That turned out to be this Mother’s Day launch.
The two-stage Falcon 9 rocket launched on a northeasterly trajectory from Cape Canaveral and successfully targeted to deliver the 60 Starlinks to an initial transfer orbit at an altitude of about 182 miles (293 kilometers) and an inclination of about 53 degrees to the equator.
Their orbits will be raised over coming weeks to join the rest of the Starlink constellation orbiting at about 341 miles (550 kilometers) above Earth.
Following stage separation at about two and a half minutes, SpaceX Falcon 9’s first stage safely for a touch down on the ‘Just Read The Instructions ‘ (JRTI ) droneship which was prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Carolina’s some 400 miles (640 km) northeast of the launch site.
Watch this droneship landing video tweeted by SpaceX from the 1st ever 10th booster launch and landing:
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Just Read the Instructions droneship, completing this booster’s 10th launch and landing! pic.twitter.com/8KeEAfHgWF
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 9, 2021
The 60 Starlinks were deployed as planned all at once about 1 hour and 4 minutes after liftoff.
Watch this Starlink deployment video tweeted by SpaceX:
Deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/RarbrcfUml
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 9, 2021
Overall the mass of the 60 Starlinks is some 34,400 pounds (15.6 metric tons).
This launch marked the 63rd flight of a re-flown SpaceX first stage – all of which have been successful.
Overall B1051.10 marked the 83rd 1st stage landing by sea or land since 2015.
This marked the 63rd flight of a reflown booster.
All Falcon 9 launches thus far this year have been on flight proven boosters
This SpaceX graphic shows the launch and landing sequence of events:
Following this latest 27th dedicated batch that brings the total number of Starlink satellites launched to 1,625 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 earlier 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
Thus the initial internet constellation goal of 1440 satellites has been achieved to roll out initial beta testing service.
SpaceX plans to launch many thousand more – well over 12,000 – to achieve global broadband internet service.
The 500 pound flat panel Starlink satellites are being mass produced and manufactured by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington.
SpaceX says they have received over half a million orders for Starlink service
This was the 2nd Starlink liftoff in May following one on May 4th and two in April on the 7th and 28th.
Another Starlink mission will launch as soon as this weekend
To date SpaceX has launched fourteen Falcon 9 rockets in 2021 – eleven of those were Starlink 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.
Watch this SpaceX tweeted this liftoff and landing video of the 1st booster to achieve 10 flight to space and back:
First Falcon 9 first stage to complete 10 launches and landings pic.twitter.com/Mraf2yXzGo
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 10, 2021
SpaceX also launched a used Falcon 9 on April 22 on the Crew-2 mission of 4 astronauts for NASA to the ISS. Check out our articles/photos
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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