SpaceX Launched Its Fifth Batch of Starlink Satellites

After two scrubs, SpaceX sends another batch of 60 Starlink satellites into low earth orbit today (Monday, February 17, 2020). This marks the fifth overall launch of Starlink satellites. After this successful launch, the satellite count in the Starlink constellation is now 300. Many concerns were raised about these satellites “polluting” the night sky and make it harder for astronomers to observe space.

On the other side, the Starlink constellation is able to bring high-speed internet to every place on the earth with low-latency connections. This has many advantages to other satellite communication networks which are in geosynchronous orbit and therefore have higher latencies.

This launch was the third batch SpaceX has launched this year to built its Starlink constellation. The first stage booster supporting today’s mission has been previously flown on three other missions.

  • CRS-17 mission in May 2019
  • CRS-18 mission in July 2019
  • JCSAT-18/Kacific1 mission in December 2019

A new record was set for SpaceX’s turnaround time of a previously flown booster, with only 62 days between its last flight and today’s mission.

The launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was originally scheduled for Saturday, February 15, 2020, but SpaceX decided to scrub the launch due to bad weather forecasted in the recovery area for the booster.

But weather saved the rocket from a possible launch failure as there was an issue discovered with a second stage valve component. There was no mention of how severe this issue was, but better safe than sorry.

Sunday night heavy rain poured down over the Cape and the morning had lots of heavy fog. The weather cleared up throughout the morning but there was a concern for upper-level winds being in an unacceptable range.

Third time is a charm, just as it was for SpaceX’s first batch of Starlink satellites. In the morning, as I was driving towards the Cape, I was worried that the fog wouldn’t clear in time and we would experience another “ghost” launch where we would be able to hear the rocket but not see. That happened to me during the RADARSAT mission in June 2019 when there was dense fog along the California coast and we only heard the rocket lift-off from Vandenberg AFB.

Can you find the Rocket?

The weather turned out to be beautiful, with only a few clouds over the launchpad. Perfect weather for photographing a launch.

This launch marked SpaceX’s 80th successful launch and was supposed to be the 50th successful landing of the first stage on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” (OCISLY). Unfortunately, the booster had a soft landing in the water rather than on the autonomous drone ship. An attempt to catch both fairing halves was also attempted by GO Ms.Chief and Go Ms. Tree but both failed as well. The difference to previous Starlink launches was today the direct injection of the satellites into an elliptical orbit rather than a circular orbit. Combine this with the weight of the stack of 60 Starlink satellites, makes recovery more challenging. Starlink stacks are one of the heaviest payloads SpaceX flies. Once the satellites are injected into their elliptical orbit, they will use their onboard ion-thrusters to move into their intended orbit.

Webcast Starlink Mission 5

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