Following a plethora of launches last week, the week of Aug. 14 through Aug. 20 only had three orbital launches—most of which are Chinese Starlink launches. The week started with the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) launching the HEAD-3A/B/C/D/E satellites atop its Kuaxzhou 1A rocket. After that, SpaceX launched the Starlink Group 6-10 from Space Launch Complex (SLC) 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS).
These missions mark the 126th through 128th orbital launch attempts of 2023 — a cadence that, if kept up, will lead to over 200 orbital launches this year. Additionally, if SpaceX’s cadence continues to grow at the same rate, the company is on track to launch just under 100 times in 2023.
On Monday, Aug. 14, the CASIC successfully launched five commercial ship/traffic automatic identification system tracking satellites. Launching at 05:32 UTC from the mobile launcher pad at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China, the vehicle placed the payloads into a 694 by 704-kilometer orbit inclined 45.00 degrees. These microsatellites will be used by the Chinese government to track and monitor ships and commercial vehicles, allowing for tracking of goods across the area.
This launch marked the 22nd launch of Kuaizhou 1A and the fourth of 2023.
Video (via CASIC): pic.twitter.com/r9KCkz5bxA
— Cosmic Penguin (@Cosmic_Penguin) August 14, 2023
SpaceX’s first and only Starlink mission of the week successfully took place on Wednesday, Aug. 16 at 11:36 PM EDT (03:36 UTC on Aug. 17) from SLC-40 at the CCSFS in Florida. This mission launched 22 Starlink v2 Mini satellites into a 284 by 294-kilometer orbit inclined 43.00 degrees. To get there, Falcon 9 utilized its standard two-burn profile, with payloads deploying one hour and six minutes after liftoff.
The booster supporting this mission was B1067-13, which has previously supported CRS-22, Crew-3, Turksat 5B, Crew-4, CRS-25, Hotbird 13G, O3b mPOWER 1&2, Satria, and four Starlink missions. This marked the 180th Falcon 9 flight with a flight-proven booster. Following liftoff, the first stage conducted the usual two-burn profile to land on SpaceX’s autonomous spaceport droneship (ASDS) A Shortfall of Gravitas, which was tugged ~640 kilometers downrange by Doug. Upon successful landing, its designation changed to B1067-14.
Following a reduction in fleet size, SpaceX utilizes Doug for ASDS support, tugging, and fairing recovery — reducing the need from four marine assets per launch to two or three. The Coast Guard has mandated that a ship must be near the ASDS, disallowing the drone ship to be on its own while Bob or Doug recover fairings, however, the Coast Gard has recently granted SpaceX to perform fairing recovery over the horizon. Because of this, and SpaceX’s high launch cadence, SpaceX sometimes sends out a third boat that generally swaps between missions to fulfill the Coast Guard’s mandates.
As noted, Doug attempted fairing recovery on this mission ~670 kilometers downrange. While it is currently unknown if the fairings on this mission are flight-proven or not, they will most likely be flight-proven, as over 92% of SpaceX launches this year have reused at least one fairing half.
If I've read this correctly as of July 30th, the US Coast Guard has approval from Congress to run a pilot program to evaluate the use of autonomous vessels, waiving existing navigational regulations for vessels in the program.
The use case for spaceflight recovery is… https://t.co/0DGwvCvOVW
— Gav Cornwell (@SpaceOffshore) July 31, 2023
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is set to launch a currently unknown payload atop a Chang Zheng 4C from Site 9401 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in China. It is speculated that the payload aboard is the Gaofen-12 04 payload based on the NOTAMs released; however, this has not been confirmed by the Chinese state authorities.
(Lead image: B1077 and B1063 at port preparing for transport to the refurbishment hangar. Credit: Julia Bergeron for NSF)