SpaceX to launch Starlink and Planet Labs satellites on Tuesday 18 August

SpaceX confirmed on Monday that it would be launching 58 Starlink satellites and 3 Planet Labs satellites aboard the Falcon 9 rocket on Tuesday 18 August 2020. Here’s what you need to know.

Space X launch: Starlink and Planet Labs

Falcon 9 launch: Date and Time

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will carry the satellites into low-Earth orbit at 16:31 SAST on Tuesday, 18 August 2020, from the Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida, United States.

SpaceX confirmed that this Falcon 9 booster also supported the mission previously by carrying Telstar 18 VANTAGE, Iridium-8 satellites into low-Earth orbit. The booster also supported three separate Starlink flights.

Upon the success of Tuesday’s mission, SpaceX will have approximately 650 Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit. According to CEO Elon Musk, public beta testing could begin in the US before the end of the year.

Launch mission for Tuesday 18 August

This would be SpaceX’s 11th Starlink mission and the space giant will be adding a further 58 satellites to the constellation of network satellites. Once the mission is complete, Starlink would provide world-wide internet coverage.

Not only would the Starlink constellation of satellites provide internet service to those who are not yet connected, but it will also provide reliable and affordable internet connectivity.

Other than bringing the Starlink constellation once step closer to completion and world-wide internet coverage, this is also the 100th launch for the SpaceX; it’s the 92nd Falcon 9 flight.

Weather conditions during launch

Weather conditions in Florida for Tuesday 18 August 2020 seem favourable. However, the launch could still be postponed if weather conditions change unexpectedly. As reported by Florida Today:

“Currently the forecast is a 70% ‘go’ as calculated by the U.S. Air Force. The primary concerns for launch are rain showers and storms, according to the 45th Space Wing”.

In the event of a delay or if the weather “improves slightly to 80%”, then go the Falcon 9 launch would be postponed to Wednesday 19 August.

The launch is currently scheduled for Tuesday, 10:31 Eastern Time (ET) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 40. That works out to 16:31 South African Standard Time (SAST).

The next launch after this is scheduled from the Space Coast from Launch Complex 37 on 26 August. Onboard the rocket is a “secretive satellite” for the National Reconnaissance Office, known as NROL-44. 

A new record

Tech Crunch reports that SpaceX will be attempting to break a rocket reusability record with Tuesday’s launch. Darrell Etherington says that SpaceX’s recent launches provide a great opportunity “to extend its work on reusable rocketry”.

Etherington explains that rocket reusability will drive down the company’s launch costs substantially:

“Starlink is [SpaceX’s] own project, which means it’s particularly important that it be able to reduce operating costs on each launch to build the constellation. The broadband internet service that Starlink will provide is only just approaching the beta stage, and won’t be returning revenue to the company for quite a while yet”.

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