Launch Roundup: SpaceX launches three Falcon 9 rockets in just over 20 hours

by Justin Davenport

Three missions have now launched this week, starting with Crew-8, which is sending a new crew to the International Space Station for a six-month tour of duty after successfully launching from Florida. Starlink 6-41 from Cape Canaveral and Transporter 10 from Vandenberg Space Force Base have also flown, and the debut of a new small satellite launcher from Japan had been set for Friday for the week’s fourth launch but Friday’s attempt was scrubbed.

Crew-8 launched three NASA astronauts and one Roscosmos cosmonaut to the Station on March 3, while the Starlink 6-41 flight and Transporter 10 took part in a launch doubleheader on March 4, with a new record time between Falcon 9 launches.

Crew-8 members left to right: Alexander Grebenkin, Michael Barratt, Matthew Dominick, Jeannette Epps. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX Falcon 9 | Crew-8

The month of March is starting with a crewed spaceflight, the third of the year. Falcon 9 B1083-1 made its launch debut with the Crew Dragon Endeavour on top making its fifth flight. Crew-8’s launch happened successfully in the late evening hours from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday, March 3. T0 was at 10:53 PM EST (03:53 UTC Monday, March 4).

Crew-8 is commanded by astronaut Matthew Dominick, with Michael Barrett being the pilot, and astronaut Jeanette Epps along with cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin being the mission specialists. While these fliers continued to orbit on the second stage, B1083-1 made a return to launch site landing on the concrete pad at LZ-1. 

Endeavour took under nine minutes to get to its orbit on its northeast trajectory, which is inclined at 51.6 degrees to the Equator, the same inclination the Station uses. There are abort zones along the flight path where the spacecraft can splash down in the event of an in-flight emergency, but the weather there needs to cooperate as well as weather at the launch site.

Updated launch forecast from the 45th Weather Squadron. (Credit: USSF)

The 45th Space Wing had the weather forecast from the Kennedy Space Center as 90 percent go for a March 1 launch but that was pushed back due to ascent corridor weather. A certain number of sites on the ascent corridor must have weather suitable for an emergency splashdown. Saturday evening’s launch attempt was scrubbed due to ascent corridor weather, but Sunday evening’s weather cooperated, with 85 percent go just before launch.

Once the Dragon made orbit and separated from the second stage, Endeavour is now conduct maneuvers to get it to the vicinity of ISS. Crew-8 is now scheduled to dock to the Station and its Harmony module’s forward port on Tuesday, March 5 at 3:00 AM EST (08:00 UTC).

This flight was the 20th SpaceX orbital mission of 2024, as SpaceX tries for what could be up to 148 flights this year. The flight was the first flight of March for the company, after nine flights in February and 10 in January. 

Aerospacelab’s high resolution earth observation satellite, one of dozens of payloads aboard Transporter-10. (Credit: Aerospacelab)

SpaceX Falcon 9 | Transporter 10

The next flight was also a Falcon 9, this time from the California coast. The rocket launched into orbit on Monday, March 4 at 2:05 PM PST (22:05 UTC) from SLC-4E with a dedicated rideshare mission for small satellites.

This flight took a southward trajectory that took all 53 payloads into a sun-synchronous polar orbit. The booster was B1081-5, which had previously flown on the PACE, Crew-7, CRS-29 and Starlink Group 6-34 missions. It conducted a boost back maneuver and successful RTLS landing on the concrete pad at LZ-4.

Highlights of Transporter 10’s payload include the first satellite fully developed, built, and operated by Portugal, two Mongolian amateur radio satellites, and a satellite to monitor methane levels in the atmosphere. Transporter missions can carry dozens of satellites on one flight, and this flight is carrying 53 satellites, most of which are earth observation platforms.

Transporter 10 was the 21st launch for SpaceX in 2024 under the current flight schedule, and the eighth launch from SLC-4E this year as well as the second flight of March for the company. The pace of launches from the West Coast has picked up in recent years and this seems likely to continue, especially with SLC-6 now being leased by SpaceX for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches.

Starlink v2 Mini satellites prior to deployment (Credit: SpaceX)

Starlink v2 Mini satellites prior to deployment. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX Falcon 9 | Starlink 6-41

The next Starlink launch for SpaceX launched successfully into a foggy evening on Monday, March 4 at 6:56 PM EST (23:56 UTC) from SLC-40 at CCSFS in Florida, just one hour and 51 minutes after Transporter 10 from California. This is a new record time between launches for SpaceX, eclipsing the previous record of two hours, 54 minutes, and 40 seconds. B1073-13 launched into a southeast trajectory while carrying 23 Starlink satellites.

B1073-13 landed safely on the droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas. Starlink flights carrying the full complement of satellites require a drone ship farther out in the Atlantic as they do not have enough performance for a boost back burn. A reduced number of satellites would be necessary for a return-to-launch site capability. 

B1073 has flown the Starlink 4-15, SES-22, Starlinks 4-26 and 4-35, HAKUTO-R Mission 1, Amazonas Nexus, CRS-27, Starlinks 6-1, 6-2, 5-11, 6-12, 6-27, and 6-37. All of B1073’s flights have been from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station or the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This flight was the 22nd launch of the Falcon 9 and SpaceX this year, and the third of the month so far. The company also set a new record for time across three launches, with 20 hours, two minutes, and 22 seconds elapsing from Crew-8 to Starlink 6-41. The previous record was 23 hours, four minutes, and 30 seconds from USSF-124 to Starlink 7-14. SpaceX is roughly on pace to perform 115 launches this year, though it aims for as high as 148 flights.

Computer-generated render of Space One’s KAIROS launching from Space Port Kii. (Credit: Space One)

(Lead image: Crew Dragon Endurance and B1083-1 being rolled out to Launch Pad 39A. Credit: SpaceX)

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