Things on Earth are getting a bit treacherous with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but SpaceX is still working on its plans for outer space. The company just completed its latest Starlink satellite deployment, bringing it tantalizingly close to flipping the switch for consumer connectivity. However, CEO Elon Musk confirms the Falcon 9 rocket failed to land on the company’s drone ship thanks to a malfunctioning engine.
The fog cleared just in time for the Falcon 9 to launch this morning from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, taking 60 Starlink internet satellites with it. The lift-off went perfectly, but we now know that one of the rocket’s nine engines shut down during the ascent. Luckily, the eight remaining engines compensated for the loss of thrust and got the second stage where it needed to be for release.
The second stage carried the satellites into orbit, adding to SpaceX’s already massive swarm of internet nodes. This brings the Starlink constellation to more than 350, putting SpaceX even further in the lead as the world’s largest satellite operator. The current launch schedule includes three more Starlink launches this year, adding 180 more satellites. However, just one more launch could get SpaceX where it needs to begin offering limited consumer service. Musk previously indicated it would take between 400 and 800 satellites.
Yeah. There was also an early engine shutdown on ascent, but it didn’t affect orbit insertion. Shows value of having 9 engines! Thorough investigation needed before next mission.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 18, 2020
More people than ever need reliable internet connections at home to continue working and learning as authorities continue to recommend social distancing to combat coronavirus. This would be a good time for SpaceX to bring its Starlink network online, but there’s no guarantee SpaceX will do so even after it reaches the minimum threshold of 400 nodes. Without a fully developed network, Starlink could suffer from the latency issues that have made traditional satellite internet systems undesirable.
Back to that first-stage booster — most SpaceX launches conclude with the Falcon 9 rocket deftly landing on a drone ship for later reuse. However, the failed engine apparently meant the rocket was unable to reach the ship and crashed in the ocean. The booster, known as B1048, had a storied career as the first Falcon 9 to complete five launches. It had two in 2018, two in 2019, and now one in 2020. It might not have survived, but that’s still four more launches than any other rockets are getting.
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