Launch Roundup: SpaceX on pace to hit 100 launches in 2023, Soyuz to launch Bars-M

by Trevor Sesnic

Following a busy week for SpaceX with the launch of two Starlink missions and the second launch of Starship, SpaceX is currently on track to meet its 100 launch goal of 2023. The first launch of the week took place on Wednesday, with North Korea successfully placing the Manligyeong 1 satellite into orbit. Later that day, Falcon 9 placed 23 Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). On Thursday, China launched three SatNet test satellites, followed on Saturday by the Russian Space Force launching a Bars-M payload on a Soyuz 2.1a. On Monday, SpaceX launched its second Starlink mission of the week: Starlink Group 6-30.

These launches will be the 187th through 191st orbital missions of 2023 — a pace that should ultimately see 210 total orbital launches this year.

Chŏllima 1 | Manligyeong 1 #3

On Nov. 21 at 13:42 UTC, North Korea successfully launched the Manligyeong 1 #3 satellite into Sun-synchronous orbit from Pad 2, at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, in North Korea. This marked the company’s first successful flight to orbit, with both previous missions failing during flight.

Derived from intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Chŏllima rocket is a three-stage launch vehicle capable of placing up to 300 kilograms into low-Earth orbit. The payload is a military reconnaissance satellite, which little is known about.

Falcon 9 Block 5 | Starlink Group 6-29

On Wednesday, Nov. 22, at 02:47 AM EST (07:47 UTC), SpaceX successfully launched 23 Starlink v2 Mini satellites to LEO from Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. The satellites were placed by Falcon 9’s second stage into a 285 by 293-kilometer LEO, inclined 43.01 degrees. Over the coming months, the satellites will rise into the operational 530-kilometer circular orbit.

Ahead of this launch, SpaceX had launched 5,467 Starlink satellites, of which 5,099 remain in orbit and 4,500 are in their operational orbit.

The first stage, B1067, flew for its 15th time after supporting CRS-22, Crew-3, Turksat 5B, Crew-4, CRS-25, Starlink Group 4-34, Hotbird 13G, O3b mPOWER 1 and 2, Starlink Group 5-2, Starlink Group 5-5, Starlink Group 5-9, Satria, Starlink Group 6-10, and Starlink Group 6-22; the latter mission launched just 39.37 days ahead of the current T0, marking the quickest refurbishment for a 15th flight.

Falcon 9’s first stage booster was originally only certified to fly up to 10 times; after the first 10th flight on the Starlink v1.0 L27 mission in May of 2021, SpaceX realized the boosters had significantly more life left in them than expected. Accordingly, at this time the company performed recertification for up to 15 flights. Similarly, after Starlink Group 4-37 (the first 15th flight of a booster) the certification was bumped up to 20 flights. At this time, SpaceX is expected to further increase the maximum number of flights to 25, although the most flown booster (B1058) has only flown 18 times.

Following the launch, B1067 followed the usual flight profile, landing on A Shortfall of Gravitas, stationed just over 600 kilometers downrange. The drone ship was tugged by Crosby Skipper, as Bob was unavailable due to working a double shift as Doug undergoes maintenance. Bob recovered both fairing halves from the water, ~640 kilometers downrange.

After the three weekend launches, and Starlink Group 6-29 marking SpaceX’s 88th launch of 2023, for the first time all year, the company is on track to reach its 100-launch goal. Since the start of September, the company has flown a total of 27 times (with this launch marking 28), highlighting the even higher cadence in the second half of 2023 compared to the first. With this increase, SpaceX is currently scheduled to just meet its 100-launch goal.

This unprecedented cadence has seen SpaceX having just under 50% of orbital launches this year (86 out of the 187, including this flight) — up from 33% of all orbital missions in 2023 (61 out of 186). In 2024, CEO Elon Musk has said that SpaceX is aiming to launch 12 times per month for a total of 144 times throughout the year.

To reach this ambitious goal, SpaceX has filed for Starlink missions that will be returning to the launch site, starting with an option on Starlink Group 6-35. This will allow teams to increase the cadence from SLC-40, whose largest bottleneck is drone ship availability. Additionally, now that the crew access arm has been fully installed on SLC-40’s tower, the pad turnaround will be decreased from roughly four to roughly three days.

On the other side of the United States, Vandenberg Space Force Base teams will also significantly reduce the turnaround of Space Launch Complex 4 East despite not replacing the transport erector with the newer “throw-back” design.

Chang Zheng 2D | SatNet test satellites

On Thursday, Nov. 23 ta 10:00 UTC, China successfully launched three SatNet test satellites into a low-Earth orbit. The Chang Zheng 2D took off from the LC-3 at the Xichange Satellite Launch Center, in China, marking the 12 CZ-2D launch of 2023. The three satellites are thought to be a test for the SatNet constellation, but few details are known.

Soyuz 2.1a | Bars-M n°5

Russian Space Force successfully launched the Bars-M payload into Sun-synchronous orbit on Nov. 25, at 20:58 UTC atop a Soyuz 2.1a. The Bars-M satellite is a surveillance satellite that will replace the Yantar-1KFT series.

The satellite will use its SVIT propulsion system to maneuver in orbit. The satellite features an electro-optical camera, which was developed and built by Leningrad Optical Mechanical Association. Additionally, the satellite has a dual laser altimeter, which delivers topographic imagery. The stereo imagers give a ground resolution of one meter.

Falcon 9 Block 5 | Starlink Group 6-30

On Monday, SpaceX successfully launched another 23 Starlink v2 Mini satellites into low-Earth orbit atop its Falcon 9. Booster B1062-17 lifted off at 11:20 PM EST on Nov. 27 (04:20 UTC on Nov. 28) from SLC-40. Following launch, the booster landed on A Shortfall of Gravitas, which will be stationed roughly 600 kilometers downrange. This marked the 175th consecutive booster landing.

(Lead image: Falcon 9 on SLC-40 with the new crew access arm ahead of O3b mPOWER. Credit: SpaceX)

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