SpaceX puts Turkish communications satellite into orbit during second Falcon 9 rocket launch of the day

CAP CANAVERAL, Fla .– SpaceX launched its second rocket in less than 24 hours on Saturday evening (December 18), putting a Turkish communications satellite into orbit before successfully completing the mission with a landing at sea.

A 70-meter-tall Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 10:58 p.m. EST (03:58 GMT December 19), at the start of a 90- one-minute window, carrying the Turksat 5B satellite into space.

About nine minutes later, the first stage of the rocket returned to Earth, landing on the deck of SpaceX’s newest drone, “A Shortfall of Gravitas.” The ship is one of three massive floating airstrips that the California Aerospace Company uses to retrieve its rockets. The other two – named “Of course I still love you” and “Just read the instructions” – carry out their own missions, marking the first time that all three drones have been deployed at the same time.

“Falcon 9 successfully took off from SLC-40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force station carrying a satellite to a geosynchronous transfer orbit,” said John Insprucker, SpaceX senior integration engineer, during a live broadcast on the launch web.

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Ahead of the launch tonight, forecasters at the US Space Force’s 45th Space Delta, which oversees launch weather operations, predicted an 80% chance of favorable conditions for launch, with the main concern being the potential for cumulus clouds. Mother Nature cooperated and it was a crystal clear night here in Florida, with a brilliant full moon shining above.

The night sky lit up when the previously flown Falcon 9 jumped off the launch pad. The glow from the nine engines on the first stage of the rocket turned night into day as the rocket soared into the clouds above the Space Coast. The roar of the engines could be heard long after the rocket disappeared from view.

Tonight’s mission marked the 30th launch of the year for SpaceX and the third flight for this particular booster. Known as B1067, this first stage is one of the last members of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket fleet.

Debuting in June this year, the B1067 has already transported two different Dragon spacecraft into orbit – the unmanned CRS-22 cargo refueling mission in June, followed by the Crew-3 mission which launched four astronauts to the International Space Station in November. For its third act, the thruster projects a 9,900 pound (4,490 kilograms) satellite into space for Turkey.

The Turksat 5B communications satellite separates from the upper stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket after its launch on December 18, 2021.

The Turksat 5B communications satellite separates from the upper stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket after its launch on December 18, 2021. (Image credit: SpaceX / YouTube)

Powered by over 1.7 million pounds of thrust from its nine first-stage Merlin 1D engines, the Falcon 9 landed the Turksat 5B satellite in orbit where it will operate for approximately 15 years, providing broadband coverage to Turkey. , the Middle East, Europe and parts of Africa.

SpaceX kicked off 2021 with the launch of the spacecraft’s counterpart, Turksat 5A, in January. The satellite duo are part of Turkey’s efforts to expand its presence in space. The launches are seen as controversial, with activists protesting outside SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, citing Turkey’s role in an Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict as the reason for boycotting the mission. A protest took place in October 2020, but it failed to stop the launch.

About nine minutes after the Falcon 9 jumped off the pad, the first stage of the rocket landed on the drone, marking the third successful launch and landing of this particular thruster. The landing also marked the 99th successful landing for a SpaceX comeback recall, since the company recovered its first rocket in 2015. Of those recoveries, 76 have been at sea.

turkish constellation

Built by Airbus, the Turksat 5B spacecraft separated from the upper stage of the Falcon 9 approximately 32 minutes after takeoff. From its orbital perch, more than 36.00 kilometers above Earth, the satellite will broadcast broadband coverage, both in the Ku and Ka bands.

Turksat 5B is slightly heavier than its predecessor (Turksat 5A), which currently sits in its orbital parking spot, which it achieved thanks to a set of onboard plasma thrusters that both spacecraft possess. These thrusters do not use traditional fuel, but rather rely on electrical power from the spacecraft’s solar panels.

Thrusters are more energy efficient than traditional thrusters that rely on monopropellants (like hydrazine) but produce less thrust, so it takes a little longer to reach its orbital parking spot. Once in its parking space, the Turksat 5B satellite will provide more than 50 gigabits per second of capacity, according to Airbus.

Saturday night’s launch marks SpaceX’s second launch in less than 16 hours. Before sunrise on the West Coast, one of the company’s oldest thrusters, a first stage known as the B1051, set a new flight record for a single thruster and it took off and landed for the 11th time.

To date, SpaceX has flown two different Boosters a total of 10 times, and two additional Boosters nine times in total. Its oldest and most prolific boosters – B1051 and B1049 – are both stationed on the West Coast where they help SpaceX launch its burgeoning Internet constellation Starlink.

Comprised of more than 1,900 flat-screen broadband satellites, Starlink aims to connect people around the world who currently have little or no Internet access.

After a successful takeoff, B1051 dropped a stack of 52 Starlink satellites into space. After that, the company’s engineers turned to Florida and the Turksat 5B payload. The mission took off just in time, setting a new corporate record with the shortest time between launches.

SpaceX isn’t slowing down yet, as the company has scheduled another Falcon 9 launch. Early Tuesday morning (December 21), another Falcon 9 rocket will transport a Dragon cargo spacecraft into space for NASA. This mission will close the year for SpaceX, bringing the total number of launches this year to 31.

The company’s previous record for most launches in a single year was set in 2020, with 26 rockets launched. This year, the company planned to launch around 40 rockets.

Reusability efforts

The ability to launch so many rockets is due to the design of the Falcon 9. The current iteration that flies today debuted in 2018. Known as Block 5, it features £ 1.7 million of first stage thrust as well as other upgrades that make it can be reused quickly.

When the upgraded Falcon 9 debuted, company officials speculated that each first-stage booster would fly up to 10 times with minor renovations in between, and potentially up to 100 times before the retirement. Experience has shown that rockets are able to fly well beyond this 10-flight threshold.

Saturday’s flight is the 133rd overall flight of a Falcon 9 rocket, the vast majority of these being fired rockets. In fact, only one of SpaceX’s 30 missions so far in 2021 has been on a brand new rocket.

In addition to the inflated version of the Falcon 9, SpaceX has a fleet of salvage ships that it uses to catch its returning boosters. A trio of huge drones, two stationed in Florida and one in California, are tasked with serving as a massive floating landing pad.

With each launch, the company is heading towards a major milestone: its 100th successful turnaround.

The company continues its efforts to retrieve the fairings from the payload, with the help of specialist vessels that it deploys to hook up the fairings after launch.

These two pieces of equipment represent about 10% of the overall price of the rocket, according to company representatives. By collecting and returning them, along with the first-stage boosters, SpaceX can reduce launch costs.

The success of the fairing’s recovery efforts is usually heralded after launch, but every one of the fairings used in Saturday’s missions has already flown. Hopefully, they’ll do it again.

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom Where Facebook.

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