Wednesday, January 29, 2020

SpaceX Puts Another 60 Starlink Satellites In Orbit

After a few days of delays, SpaceX successfully placed another 60 of their Starlink satellites in orbit with a launch at 9:06 this morning Eastern time.  It was “one of those days” from my viewing site (the east side of my backyard); there were just enough clouds in just the right position that I didn't see even a glimpse of the launch.  Once it reached 1st stage cutoff and there was no chance of seeing anything, I came inside to watch them stick the landing.  This video should start just before the video switches to watch the first stage landing on their drone ship.

The video is one hour 15 minutes long, their entire launch coverage, so it includes all the milestones you'd want to see plus every minute of wait time (that you can fast forward through), if you're interested.

In addition, they continue to attempt to catch payload fairings with two recovery ships on the calculated target for the fairings.  Recovery vessel Ms. Tree caught one of the two payload fairing halves. Ms. Chief just missed the other one, the company said on its webcast.

Ars Technica reports this is the fourth flight of this Falcon 9 first stage and the successful recovery means they'll probably go for a fifth.  The design life is supposed to be five flights and I'm personally interested in seeing if they'll attempt a sixth launch of some booster.  My gut feeling is that they'll find a test mission or something without a paying customer and try a sixth. 

Finally, this mission contains a test of some new technology for the Starlink satellites.  The last time I talked about these, 18 days ago, I mentioned that there was growing concern in the astronomical community about reflections from the satellites ruining meticulously arranged photography.
In response, SpaceX has begun experimenting with darkening treatment and will consider other measures. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said he is sympathetic to the concerns of astronomers and will take steps to ensure the fidelity of astronomical observations.
A darkening treatment, not exactly like Virginia Governor Jolson Klanrobe's blackface, but more like an optical black anodizing treatment.  It will be interesting to see how well that works.


  1. I'm wondering when they're going to try recovery of the 2nd stage. Maybe collect them in an orbital 'yard' and pick them up later using the BFR. Or somehow make them atmospherically recoverable, maybe with some inflatable heat shield or something.

    Nothing really surprises me anymore from them.

    1. I haven't heard anything about this since that early report, last summer (I think). Since I don't do any social media except for blogging, it's harder to keep up with them than if you follow every tweet, or Instagram or whatever.

      It's hard to keep up with these guys because they move fast and a lot isn't covered closely. I just learned they successfully tested a Starship fuel tank two nights ago, pressurizing it until failure. They call that the last hurdle to qualify Starship's major subassemblies for flight.

  2. Say what you will about Musk, this is solid achievement that keeps innovating and improving. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I'm wondering when they're going to try recovery of the 2nd stage.

    They're more valuable where they are, as a vacation destination -- bring your Bond girl on a spaceplane and practice docking manuevers in free fall.

    I've seen a stellite flare close to sunset, it was as bright as Venus. I think the light pollution question is hopeless. Just be happy there isn't a Pepsi sign on the moon yet.

    1. The best thing you can say about the satellite flares and the visual trains of these is that they're only visible when the sun is still visible from orbit but after sundown on the ground. They don't wipe out the whole night; they're visible for an hour two at sunset and sunrise.

      Pretty much every night and every morning for those couple of hours satellites, old boosters, and all sorts of junk is visible.

  4. One proposal that I like the best for cleaning up orbital debris from all these launches is to use ground-based high energy lasers to vaporize small particles.

    You're never going to be able to send up rockets after every bolt-fragment and paint fleck - crazy inefficient, and you'd be generating pieces faster than you'd be taking them down.

    By the time people ask why I really need a large aperture high-powered laser battery, no one is going to be overflying my volcano lair without permission again! >:)


    1. I was thinking more like the Mega Maid from Spaceballs:

      With the laser, there's always that pesky Rule 4 about what's behind your target.

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