The first of two Falcon 9 missions SpaceX plans for Sunday into orbit will carry the largest constellation of second-generation Starlink satellites ever to be launched from the West Coast. This was Starlink’s 50th launch of the year.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Space Force Base Vandenberg in California at 2 a.m. PT (5 a.m. EDT/0900 UTC) carrying 22 satellites.
The California launch on Sunday will be followed by another Starlink delivery mission carrying 23 satellites, which will launch from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 7:45 p.m. EDT (2345 UTC).
The Starlink 7-6 mission was the first time the Falcon 9 carried 22 satellites called V2 Mini from the West Coast. Previously, missions from there were limited to 15 or 21 Starlink vehicles, depending on the orbit. On the East Coast, the Falcon 9 launched 23 V2 Minis a week earlier on October 21, one more than the previous maximum for a mission from the Cape.
SpaceX did not explain how it achieves this additional delivery capacity. This may be due to an improvement in the estimated performance of the Falcon 9 or perhaps to a manufacturing change that reduced the overall weight of the satellites.
The Falcon 9 first stage rocket, tail number B1075, was making its seventh flight. It entered service in January of this year carrying 51 older generation Starlinks into orbit. It went on to launch the Tranche 0 Flight 1 mission for the US Army Space Development Agency and then made four more Starlink delivery flights. It last flew before its launch today on September 25, creating a 34-day turnaround.
After separating from the Falcon 9 second stage, B1075 continued to land on the Of Course I Just Love You drone, which was stationed in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California.
The 22 Starlink satellites will be launched from the second stage after just over an hour of flight. The successful deployment will bring the total number of Starlink satellites in orbit to 4,989, according to Statistics compiled by Jonathan McDowell.
SpaceX has completed 25 orbital missions from Vandenberg in the last 365 days, an average of one launch every 14.6 days. Including launches from Cape Canaveral, this was SpaceX’s 89th orbital mission in the last 365 days, a launch every 4.1 days on average.
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