Record-breaking Starlink mission to mark the conclusion of SpaceX’s third quarter

SpaceX is set to conclude the third quarter of 2023 with its 70th launch of the year. The upcoming mission, Starlink Group 6-19, is scheduled to take off this Friday, September 29th. This launch will mark another milestone for SpaceX as it continues to break records and push boundaries in the space industry.

The weather forecast for the primary launch day predicts a 40 percent chance of favorable conditions for liftoff. In the event of a delay, there is a backup launch opportunity approximately 24 hours later. Despite the potential challenges, SpaceX remains committed to achieving its goals and setting new records in the final quarter of 2023.

The Starlink Group 6-19 mission will deploy an additional batch of 22 Starlink v2 Mini satellites into Starlink’s second-generation constellation, known as Starlink Gen 2. Prior to the launch, SpaceX’s drone ship, A Shortfall Of Gravitas (ASOG), and the multi-purpose recovery vessel Doug departed Port Canaveral to prepare for the mission. The first and second stages of the Falcon 9 rocket were rolled out from SpaceX’s HangarX facility at Kennedy Space Center and will be used for the tenth time. This demonstrates SpaceX’s commitment to reusability and cost-efficiency in space exploration.

The payload fairing, carrying the 22 Starlink v2 Mini satellites, was transported to the launch pad from SpaceX’s HangarX2 building. This facility has been in use for several months as a payload processing facility for Starlink missions.

The Falcon 9 rocket will undergo a traditional 35-minute automated propellant load sequence before liftoff. The first stage will experience a two-and-a-half-minute powered flight through the atmosphere before separating from the second stage. The first stage will then attempt a landing on the drone ship ASOG, stationed approximately 629 kilometers downrange. Following separation from the first stage, the second stage will ignite its engine, inserting itself and the Starlink satellites into a preliminary parking orbit. The fairing halves will separate about 30 seconds after the second stage’s ignition and will be recovered by the vessel Doug. The second stage will then perform a brief two-second burn to raise the orbit’s perigee, targeting the 284 by 294-kilometer deployment orbit. The satellites will be deployed ten minutes later.

Once the Starlink Group 6-19 mission is complete, SpaceX will have launched a total of 5,200 satellites into its Starlink constellation. Out of these, 4,827 remain in orbit, and 4,199 are in their operational orbits. The company has added 502 satellites to its Starlink constellation in the third quarter of 2023 alone.

Despite launching heavier Starlink v2 Mini satellites, SpaceX has increased the cadence of its Starlink launches. In the first half of the year, SpaceX launched 22 Starlink missions, and the third quarter has already seen 20 Starlink missions. The company also introduced a new group of launches, Group 7, which brings v2 Mini satellites to the 53-degree orbital shell of Starlink Gen 2. A new group of launches, Group 8, is expected to debut in the next quarter and may focus on Starlink satellites with direct-to-cell connectivity.

SpaceX aims to further increase its launch cadence in the coming years. CEO Elon Musk has confirmed plans to launch up to 10 Falcon rockets per month by the end of this year and 12 launches per month in 2024. This ambitious goal would result in a total of 144 launches in 2024, breaking SpaceX’s own records and setting new worldwide standards.

To maintain a high launch cadence, SpaceX has carefully planned mission operations and construction work around each other. This includes scheduling launches during the night when construction work is not underway and efficiently transporting and stacking tower sections between missions. The company has also streamlined droneship operations, resulting in shorter turnaround times for these recovery ships.

The third quarter of 2023 has seen a significant reduction in customer launches by SpaceX. Out of the 24 missions in Q3, only four were for customers, with the majority being delayed due to various reasons. However, notable missions are still planned for the remainder of the year, including the launch of NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander to the Moon, and the US Space Force X-37B spacecraft on an undisclosed mission.

Looking ahead, Falcon 9’s launch cadence shows no signs of slowing down. The rocket has a healthy manifest for the second half of the decade, with over a hundred missions planned each year for the next 4-5 years. SpaceX will continue to make small upgrades to improve Falcon 9’s reusability and simplify operations. Additionally, many of these missions will be Starlink launches as SpaceX works towards operational capability for its Starship rocket.

As SpaceX prepares for its record-breaking Starlink Group 6-19 mission, the company remains dedicated to pushing boundaries in space exploration and achieving new milestones. With its ambitious launch cadence plans and commitment to reusability, SpaceX is set to make a lasting impact in the space industry.