SpaceX launches next set of Starlink satellites despite issues

by | Mar 18, 2020 | Rockets, Spacecraft, SpaceX, Starlink | 0 comments

Finally, earlier today SpaceX launched its sixth batch of 60 StarLink satellites into low Earth orbit this morning, but this mission was far from smooth!

IMAGE: Venting occurs as a SpaceX Falcon 9 is safed following a last second launch abort March 15th.
CREDIT: Theresa Cross, Space Flight Insider

This mission was originally scheduled to launch this past Monday morning East Coast time, and the count seemed to be going exactly according to plan — right up until the clock hit T- 00:00:00. At that point the nine Merlin engines of the first stage ignited and then immediately shut down as the onboard computers detected what SpaceX initially termed, “an out of family data” problem. In short, the power-up phase was not going according to plan so the computer hit the virtual Big Red Button which shut off the engines before the rocket could lift from the pad.

Further testing apparently revealed no firm cause for the faulty reading, and a new instantaneous launch window was set for 08:16 AM EDT this morning. This time no errors were detected, and the rocket lifted off as planned. 

That was NOT the end of this adventure, however!

IMAGE: A Falcon 9 rocket roars from SLC-39a at the Kennedy Space Center Wednesday, March 18th, with 60 StarLink satellites aboard. CREDIT: SpaceX / SpaceflightNow.com

As the rocket roared into the Florida sky, the glitch from a couple of days before was a thing of the past. But several seconds before scheduled main engine cutoff, one of the nine Merlin engines on the first stage shut down prematurely. Elon Musk would later tweet that this was the advantage of having nine engines and the upper stage was able to reach its target orbit despite this shut-down.

The failure was not without cost, however. SpaceX announced on their webcast just before the deployment of the Starlink satellites that the first stage had failed its landing attempt on the drone ship, Of Course I Still Love You.  Musk stated that a thorough investigation was needed to solve the issue prior to launching future missions. There was no immediate word as to how this might affect missions already in the pipeline, or how long they would be delayed, if at all, by the mishap.

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CREDIT: SpaceX / SciNews

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