SpaceX is about to have an extremely busy week, with two Falcon 9 missions, including this year’s first Starlink launch, scheduled back to back on Wednesday and Friday.
On Wednesday morning, the private space company is set to launch a batch of 60 Starlink satellites from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will be the first Starlink mission of 2021 and the 16th operational launch of the Starlink program overall. The mission was originally scheduled for Monday but was delayed due to unfavorable weather conditions.
Liftoff is scheduled at 8:02 a.m. EST. You can watch the mission live on SpaceX’s website beginning about 15 minutes before liftoff.
On Friday morning, another Falcon 9 rocket carrying dozens of small satellites for SpaceX’s commercial and government customers will blast off from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and fly toward a sun-synchronous orbit near the North Pole. The mission, known as Transporter 1, is under SpaceX’s “Smallsat Rideshare Program” debuted in 2019.
Notably, the Transporter-1 mission will include 10 Starlink satellites that will be deployed in a polar orbital plane at an altitude of 560 kilometers (350 miles). It will be SpaceX’s first polar launch of Starlink satellites. In fact, the company didn’t have the Federal Communications Commission’s permission to launch these satellites until two weeks ago. Among the 4,400 satellites planned in the first-phase Starlink constellation, about 500 are expected to be placed in polar orbits to provide service in high-altitude rural areas. The first 10 will offer basic internet access in Alaska as part of SpaceX’s beta Starlink service in North America.
Preparing for the unusually tight launch schedule, SpaceX has deployed almost its entire rocket recovery fleet to the Atlantic Ocean to support back-to-back booster landings and payload fairing recovery.
Drone ship “Just Read The Instructions (JRTI),” along with crew support ship “GO Quest” and two fairing recovery ships “GO Ms Tree” and “GO Ms Chief,” are on their way off the coast of North Carolina for Wednesday’s Starlink launch, while drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY),” is headed south toward the Bahamas to recover Transporter-1.
Wednesday’s and Friday’s launches will be the 102nd and 103rd flights for SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket. For the rest of the year, SpaceX has planned 40 more missions between its California and Florida launch sites, making 2021 the busiest year in the company’s history.