A pair of SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets are on track to complete the first month of 2023 and kick off the second month with a Starlink doubleheader.
To “complete pre-launch checkout,” SpaceX delayed its last launch of the month by 24 hours. The first Falcon 9 Starlink 2-6 rocket and D-Orbit rideshare payload will launch no later than 8:29 a.m. PST (16:29 UTC) on Monday 30 January. The mission will lift off from SpaceX’s Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) SLC-4E platform and head southeast, along the coast of California and Mexico. In the event of inclement weather or a minor technical issue, a backup window is available at 12:31 PM PST.
Less than 35.5 or 39.5 hours later, the second Falcon 9 rocket will lift off from SpaceX’s Florida-based NASA Kennedy Space Center LC-39A at about 3:02 a.m. EST on Tuesday, February 1.
Heading off the duo, Starlink 2-6 will be SpaceX’s ninth Starlink rideshare mission since the company began demonstrating third-party payloads on its satellite launch online in June 2020. The Falcon 9 will launch the mission’s primary payload—a batch of 49 Starlink V1s. 5 satellites – to a subpolar orbit that sees them crossing the Earth’s equator at an angle of 70 degrees. Normally, the mission would carry 51 Starlinks, but SpaceX removed a pair of satellites to make room for the ION SCV009 spacecraft of Italian space logistics company D-Orbit.
ION weighs about 160 kilograms (350 lb) on its own and is roughly the size of a large oven. D-Orbit designed the spacecraft to host stationary payloads and to deploy satellites in orbit. It also has a payment system that allows it to offer “last-mile delivery services,” giving rideshare customers the ability to modify the orbit in which their satellite ends up. Space tugs such as the ION aim to give satellite owners some of the advantages of rocket launches (custom orbit selection in particular) while retaining most of the cost savings that rideshare launches allow.
After reaching orbit, Falcon 9 will first deploy ION, use thrusters to spin itself from end to end, and then launch all 49 Starlink satellites simultaneously. The centrifugal force of the rotating stage causes the satellite stack to spread normally within several hours. The satellites then use reaction wheels to stabilize their orientation, deploy solar panels to begin charging their batteries, and finally use ion thrusters to climb into operational orbits.
ION SCV009 will try to test it A new satellite separation system built by EBAD is demonstrating its ability to operate in very low Earth orbit (VLEO). The spacecraft will potentially It drops itself to an altitude of 270 kilometers (170 miles).
Starlink 5-3 will not carry any transport share payloads and will likely be nearly identical to Starlink 5-2, which SpaceX successfully launched on January 26th. The latest batch of 56 Starlink V1.5 satellites weighed 17.4 tons and was The heaviest payload SpaceX has ever launched. Starlink 5-3 is targeting the same orbit and will likely also carry 56 satellites.
The last time the 39A board supported SpaceX Fifth Falcon Heavy launch on January 15 and quickly converted back to a single-core Falcon 9 configuration for Starlink 5-3. After the Starlink mission, Pad 39A has at least two Dragon spacecraft launches scheduled before SpaceX needs to convert it back into a triple booster configuration for the sixth Falcon Heavy launch.
SpaceX is scheduled to launch the mission to transport Crew-6 astronauts from Crew Dragon no later than Feb 26thand the Cargo Dragon’s Spx-27 cargo delivery mission March 11th. Falcon Heavy is scheduled to launch the giant communications satellite ViaSat-3 no later than March 24th.
Tune in below at about 8:25 AM PT (16:25 UTC) to watch the SpaceX Starlink 2-6 launch live.