SpaceX has a huge number of history-making achievements. On Tuesday, the private spaceflight company will seek to add another to its list.
It is preparing for another launch of Starlink satellites, the tenth such mission to date. The Falcon 9 rocket booster that carries the satellites into orbit will be flying for the sixth time. That will set a record for the most times a first-stage booster has been flown.
SpaceX is currently pursuing an aggressive launch timeline for its Starlink satellites. The company aims to offer high-speed satellite internet that can compete with ground-based service providers. Doing so requires an expansive network of satellites.
Tuesday’s mission will send a fresh batch of 58 Starlink units into orbit. As of August 7, SpaceX had launched 597 of the satellites. In total, it currently plans to send nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit and hopes to expand the network to 42,000 over time.
The first stage booster that will be used for Tuesday’s launch has flown on three other Starlink missions. In addition to those flights, it has carried satellites for SpaceX customers Telstar and Iridium on two separate missions. Flying the Falcon 9 booster for a sixth time sets a reusability record.
Meanwhile, SpaceX will attempt to land and recover the booster—which would be another record-breaking achievement.
Tuesday’s launch isn’t just noteworthy because it is setting records. It also marks SpaceX’s 100th launch. That’s a huge milestone for the spaceflight firm.
Pushing the Boundaries
The Starlink program has been somewhat controversial. Following its early launches, astronomers raised concerns that the satellite network would interfere with their observations of the universe. In response, SpaceX developed a special sun visor for its satellites that helps reduce their brightness.
Back in April, CEO Elon Musk said, “Our objectives, generally, are to make the satellites invisible to the naked eye within a week, and to minimize the impact on astronomy, especially so that we do not saturate observatory detectors and inhibit discoveries.”
SpaceX has been launching Starlink satellites at an unprecedented rate to try and get its network up as quickly as possible. The whirlwind of launches has actually been quite beneficial for the company’s reusability efforts. It has given SpaceX several attempts to fine-tune the process and make improvements.
Meanwhile, SpaceX is also working to push the limits of reusability by perfecting its fairing recovery program. It wants to reliably catch both halves of the fairing that is used to protect the rocket’s cargo during a launch. SpaceX managed to do so during a July Starlink mission by using ships with nets extending from their decks.
Successfully catching and reusing rocket fairings could decrease launch costs by as much as $6 million per flight.
That’s good not only for the Starlink project but also for the spaceflight industry as a whole. Reusability is the key to cheaper, more frequent launches.
For SpaceX, reducing the cost of each flight is extremely important. By furthering its reusability efforts, it is able to launch Starlink satellites with less operating costs. Eventually, that will help the company turn a profit on its innovative internet service.
Still, Starlink isn’t quite ready for that challenge. A public beta is imminent, but the internet service won’t start returning revenue for some time.