SpaceX has successfully launched the fourth batch of 60 Starlink satellites aboard a flight-proven Falcon 9. The launch was the second Starlink mission of 2020 with as many as 18 more to follow this year.
The flight-proven Falcon 9 was launched from Cape Canaveral at 14:06 UTC yesterday (Jan. 29). Approximately an hour after liftoff, the 60 Starlink satellites were deployed into orbit 290 kilometres above Earth.
Each of the 60 new Starlink satellites will now be put through a data review to ensure they are operating nominally. Once they have been cleared, the satellites will be raised to an operational orbit of 550 kilometres.
With the completition of the fourth Starlink mission, SpaceX has deployed 240 satellites. Although the vast majority of the satellites launched thus far are believed to be operational, at least three are dead and two are currently being prepared to be deorbited.
Prior to the launch of yesterday’s mission, SpaceX revealed that it would be attempting to recover the first-stage booster and the fairing halves. Both recover efforts suffered setbacks.
The Falcon 9 booster made a nominal approach to the Of Course I Still Love You droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 8 minutes after liftoff. As it touched down, the booster appeared to have hit the deck harder than usual with its four landing legs buckling under the pressure.
As a result of the off-nominal touchdown, the droneship’s octograbber robot was not able to latch on to the upper stage to secure it to the deck for the ride back into port. SpaceX crews were forced to board and secure the booster manually with chains and jacks, a process utilised for early landing attempts.
Once the booster recovery attempt had been completed, the attention of the SpaceX recovery fleet shifted to the two fairing recovery vessels. Just prior to the release of the 60 Starlink satellites, SpaceX confirmed that one of the fairing halves had been caught by the Ms. Tree vessel. However, soon after it was confirmed that the attempt to catch the second half had not been successful.