SpaceX has completed a static fire test of a Falcon 9 set to carry 60 Starlink satellites to orbit tomorrow.
The successful completition of the Falcon 9 static fire test was confirmed on the official SpaceX Twitter page on January 4. The tweet revealed a targetted launch date of January 6 at 02:19 UTC from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Following a successful launch, the Falcon 9 upper stage is expected to deploy the 60 Starlink satellites into a low Earth orbit at an altitude of 290 kilometers. Once in orbit, ground controllers will complete a series of data reviews before raising each satellite’s orbit.
Among the 60 satellites set to be deployed tomorrow is a single test article treated with a new anti-reflective coating. The coating is designed to reduce the satellite’s visibility from Earth thus ensuring it is less likely to interfere with ground-based astronomical observation. The addition of the coating is a response to widespread criticism the Starlink constellation has received from the astronomy community, who are concerned that a large constellation of satellites could destroy ground-based astronomy.
If the test article produces satisfactory results, the coating will presumably be added to all future Starlink satellites. However, it is currently unclear when the coating will be implemented as standard and how many satellites will be deployed in 2020 before it becomes standard.
The Falcon 9 booster (B1049) set to be utilized for tomorrow’s Starlink mission will be embarking on its fourth mission. B1049 was first launched in September 2018 carrying the Telstar 18 VANTAGE communications satellite to a geosynchronous transfer orbit. It was then utilized for two missions in 2019 delivering 10 Iridium satellites to orbit in January and 60 Starlink satellites in May.
Once it has delivered the Falcon 9 upper stage and payload into space, SpaceX hopes to complete a fourth recovery of B1049. The booster is expected to touch down on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship stationed in the Atlantic ocean approximately 8 minutes after liftoff.
In addition to a booster recovery attempt, SpaceX has revealed that it will also attempt to recover one half of the fairing. The fairing catch attempt is expected to be carried out utilizing the Ms. Tree recovery vessel 40 minutes after it is deployed from the rocket’s upper stage.