The first-generation Starlink network architecture includes satellites flying at an altitude of a few hundred kilometers, orbiting at inclinations of 97.6°, 70°, 53.2° and 53.0° to the equator. Most of SpaceX’s recent Starlink launches have launched satellites on Shell 4, with an incline of 53.2 degrees, after the company largely completed launches on its first 53-degree incline structure last year.
Starlink’s Shell 5 is believed to be one of the layers in the constellation’s polar orbits, with an inclination of 97.6 degrees. But the name of Wednesday’s mission – Starlink 5-1 – could indicate that SpaceX has changed the naming scheme for Starlink shells.
The SpaceX launch team deployed inside the southern launch control center at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in preparation for Wednesday’s dawn countdown. SpaceX began loading ultra-cold condensed kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants onto the Falcon 9 vehicle in less than 35 minutes.
Helium-pressurized material also flowed into the rocket during the last half hour of the countdown. During the last seven minutes before takeoff, the Falcon 9 Merlin’s main engines are thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as “cooling down”. The Falcon 9’s field guidance and security systems are also configured for launch.
Upon liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket funneled 1.7 million pounds of thrust – produced by nine Merlin engines – to head southeast into the Atlantic Ocean. The launch marks the resumption of Starlink missions from Cape Canaveral using the southeast launch corridor, which SpaceX used last winter to take advantage of better sea conditions for the accelerated landing of Falcon 9’s first stage.
During the summer and fall, SpaceX launched Starlink missions on trajectories northeast of Florida’s Space Coast.
The Falcon 9 rocket exceeded the speed of sound in about a minute and shut down its nine main engines two and a half minutes after liftoff. The propulsion stage separated from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fired pulses of cold gas control thrusters and extended titanium grid fins to help guide the vehicle through the ‘atmosphere’.
Two brake burners slowed the missile as it landed on the ‘A Shortfall of Gravitas’ drone about 410 miles (660 kilometers) about nine minutes after liftoff.
The Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing was scrapped during the second stage burn. The rescue craft was also stationed in the Atlantic Ocean to retrieve the nose cone halves after they fell under the parachutes.
The landing of the mission’s first stage on Wednesday came moments after the Falcon 9’s second stage engine stalled to send the Starlink satellites into orbit. Spacecraft 54 Starlink, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Wash., separated from the Falcon 9 rocket about 19 minutes after liftoff. SpaceX had to wait for the rocket to pass a ground station in Guam to confirm Starlink’s separation from the upper stage.
Falcon 9’s guidance computer aims to deploy the satellites in an elliptical orbit with an inclination of 43 degrees to the equator, with an altitude between 131 miles and 210 miles (212 by 338 kilometers). After separating from the rocket, the 54th Starlink spacecraft will launch the solar arrays, go through automated activation stages, and then use the ion thrusters to maneuver them into their operational orbit.
Rocket: Falcon 9 (B1062.11)
Useful load: 54 Starlink satellites (Starlink 5-1)
Launch location: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Station, Florida
Lunch date: December 28, 2022
Lunch time: 04:34:00 EST (09:34:00 GMT)
Weather forecast: more than 90% chance of acceptable weather conditions; low risk of high winds; Moderate risk of adverse conditions for an accelerated recovery
Recovery after boost: Drone ship called “A Shortfall of Gravitas” in the northeast Bahamas
AZIMUTH RELEASE: southeast
target orbit: 131 by 210 miles (212 by 338 kilometers), 43.0 degrees
- T+00:00: takeoff
- T+01:12: Maximum air pressure (Max-Q)
- T+02:29: First stage main engine shutdown (MECO)
- T+02:32: Separation phase
- T+02:39: Second stage engine ignition
- T+02:44: Calm down
- T+06:44: First stage inlet burner ignition (three engines)
- T+07:00: First stage input afterburner shutdown
- T+08:26: First stage combustion ignition (single engine)
- T+08:38: Second stage engine shutdown (SECTION 1)
- T+08:47: First stage landing
- T+18:43: Starlink satellite disconnected
- The 193rd Falcon 9 launch since 2010
- The 202nd launch of the Falcon family since 2006
- Eleventh launch of the Falcon 9 B1062 booster
- The 165th Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
- Launch of the 107 Falcon 9 from platform 40
- 162nd overall release of Table 40
- Falcon 9 propeller flight 132 converted
- The 67 Falcon 9 launch is primarily intended for the Starlink network
- The launch of the fifty-ninth Falcon 9 cycle in 2022
- SpaceX launches 60 in 2022
- The 57th orbital launch attempt, launched from Cape Canaveral in 2022