Launch Roundup: SpaceX pushes for 100 flights in the year with a ISS resupply, a rideshare mission, and more

by Aaron McCrea

SpaceX is actively working to reach its goal of 100 launches by the end of this year with four launches carrying many different types of payloads coming this week. Additionally, China has continued to upgrade its satellites in orbit with the 150th launch of its Chang Zheng 3B/E rocket.

A Starlink mission started out the week early on Wednesday, launching from SLC-40 with its new crew tower at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS). Then China launched its 150th Chang Zheng 3B/E at Xichang Satellite Launch Center adding another communications satellite to orbit.

Three more Falcon 9 launches end this week, with the first of those being the resupply of the International Space Station with the 29th launch of SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply Mission (CRS). This launched from historic pad LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Next was the Transporter 9 rideshare mission launching from pad SLC-4E out of Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB). For the final launch this week, SpaceX launched two O3b mPOWER 5 & 6 for SES out of SLC-40 at CCSFS.

Falcon 9 – Starlink Group 6-27

The first launch of the week was completed by SpaceX, who launched another 23 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit (LEO). This flight successfully launched early on Nov. 8 at 12:05 AM EST (05:05 UTC) out of SLC-40 at CCSFS in Florida.

Falcon 9 booster B1073-11 lifted the 52nd Starlink mission of this year to orbit. The booster has previously supported SES-22, HAKUTO-R Mission 1, Dispasat Amazonas Nexus, CRS-27, and six Starlink missions. The upper stage took these 23 satellites to a 284 by 293-kilometer LEO while the booster returned to the droneship Just Read The Instructions, which was 630 kilometers downrange for the landing of this booster.

Starlink v2-mini satellites were the payload inside the fairing for this launch. They are the second generation of Starlink satellites made for high-speed internet access all over the world due to their placement in LEO. The satellites successfully deployed at 230 kilometers just over an hour after launch. They will now increase their altitude to the final operational orbit of 530 kilometers in the coming months.

Chang Zheng 3B/E – Zhongxing-6E

The only rocket that launched this week that was not a Falcon 9 was the Chang Zheng 3B/E from LC-2 at Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China. This was Chang Zheng 3B/E’s fifth launch of this year. It launched on Nov. 9 at 11:23 UTC for its 150th mission of all time.

The payload inside the 4.2-meter-diameter fairing was a Zhongxing-6E satellite. This satellite is a communications satellite put into a geosynchronous orbit above China and is meant to be the successor to the Zhongxing-6B. Zhongxing-6B was used for TV transmissions and shortwave radio jamming, so Zhongxing-6E will likely be used for the same reasons, but with updated technology.

Falcon 9 – CRS SpX-29

Keeping the ISS supplied, SpaceX sent its third Falcon 9 this week to LEO. Using Cargo Dragon capsule C211, SpaceX continued its CRS missions contracted by NASA. This launch took place on Nov. 9 out of historic pad, LC-39A at KSC in Florida at 8:28 PM EST (Nov. 10 at 1:28 UTC).

This mission was SpaceX’s 29th CRS mission to the ISS and ninth under CRS phase two. Booster 1081 put the supplies onto a 51.66-degree inclined orbit, the same orbit as the ISS. Then the second stage and Cargo Dragon took them the rest of the way to docking. This is booster 1081’s second flight with its first being Crew-7’s mission taking Dragon C210 Endurance to the International Space Station. The booster successfully landed back at Landing Zone 1 at KSC.

This was also Cargo Dragon C211’s second flight. It has taken SpaceX 348 days to refurbish and relaunch this capsule following its launch in late November of last year. It will dock onto the ISS’s Harmony port after just over 29 hours in space. This was Falcon 9’s 77th mission this year and its 272nd mission to date.

Falcon 9 – Transporter 9

SpaceX continued the run of Falcon 9 launches this week with its ninth rideshare mission. Transporter 9 launched successfully on Nov. 11 at 10:49 AM PST (06:49 UTC) from pad SLC-4E at VSFB in California.

Booster 1071 conducted a return-to-launch site landing at Landing Zone 4.  In its lifetime, it has carried NROL-87, NROL-85,  SARah-1, Starlink 3-2, Starlink 4-29, SWOT,  Starlink 2-6 with ION SCV-009 Eclectic Elena, Starlink 2-8, Transporter 8, Starlink 6-15, and Starlink 7-2. This was the booster’s 12th launch and second Transporter mission.

Transporter-9 launched a multitude of satellites to a sun-synchronous orbit, deploying them along the way to get them into their specified orbit. The deployments were finished one hour and 26 minutes after liftoff. Since this mission is a return-to-launch site landing, there was not be a drone ship involved in the recovery of the booster. However, both fairings will be recovered downrange by GO Beyond.

This is SpaceX’s ninth dedicated rideshare mission. These missions help many small satellites get to orbit starting at the relatively low price of $275,000 US for a satellite with a mass of up to 50 kilograms. There are many different configurations rideshare buyers can purchase, with options up to 300 kilograms. SpaceX has these transporter missions approximately every four months, allowing many smaller satellite companies or class projects with enough funding access to space.

Falcon 9 – O3b mPOWER 5 & 6

This week’s fourth and final Falcon 9 launch took two O3b mPOWER satellites to an equatorial MEO transfer orbit for the satellite telecommunications network provider SES. SpaceX launched this mission on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 4:08 PM EST (21:08 UTC) and took off out of pad SLC-40 at CCSFS in Florida. This was the fourth time SES has trusted Falcon 9 to get their satellites into orbit and SpaceX’s second launch from SLC-40 this week.

Booster 1076 took these satellites to a medium-Earth orbit on its ninth flight. It landed on SpaceX’s drone ship, A Shortfall of Gravitas, downrange from CCSFS in the Atlantic Ocean. This booster has flown eight missions before this flight which include CRS SpX-26, OneWeb #16, Starlink Group 6-1, Intelsat 40e/TEMPO, Starlink Group 6-3, Starlink Group 6-6, Starlink Group 6-14,  and Starlink Group 6-21.  It has only taken SpaceX 39 days to prepare this booster for launch after the flight of Starlink Group 6-21 and was the 79th Falcon 9 mission of this year.

These are the fifth and sixth satellites that Boeing built for SES, although they have not come without problems. On Oct. 31, SES announced that electrical issues have caused major performance downgrades. This problem, which caused the satellites to periodically switch off the power modules, will cause SES to have to put two more O3b mPOWER satellites into orbit just to get the same expected bandwidth they planned for in the first place. 

There are also important upgrades that Boeing will have to make before the satellites can launch. Since the problem is so recent, the satellites onboard Falcon 9 did not have the upgrades. SES has stated that they do not expect to spend more money on the constellation due to a risk-sharing deal with Boeing. Boeing is now expected to lose $315 million on the original deal due to the glitch. 

Due to the downgrade in bandwidth, there will now have to be at least three more launches until the constellation of O3b mPOWER is complete. If no more problems arise, the constellation will likely be activated later in 2024. When it is online, it will give internet access to many different hard-to-reach areas. This includes cruise ships and commercial ships as well as offshore energy like oil and gas mining. It is also there to protect military units, and in some specific cases, the average person by creating an always active signal.

(Lead image: Falcon 9 launching Starlink 6-27 from SLC-40 at CCSFS. Credit: Julia Bergeron for NSF)


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