The launch set the stage for the return to Earth on Monday of an unmanned Dragon freighter carrying research samples and equipment from the International Space Station and a suspected test flight by a Starship top-stage prototype from SpaceX’s launch site in Boca Chica, Texas.
Last year, SpaceX launched 26 Falcon 9 rockets, including two Crew Dragon pilot missions that carried six astronauts to the International Space Station, two unmanned Dragon freighters to the lab, and 14 Starlink flights that put 833 relay satellites into orbit. Internet.
The company is expected to attempt 40 or more Falcon 9 flights in 2021, including another flight by NASA’s Dragon crew to the station and, possibly, a fully commercial flight carrying four non-NASA astronauts.
The company kicked off its 2021 launch campaign at 9:15 p.m. ET Thursday when the nine Merlin engines powering a previously flown Falcon 9 first stage burst at the Cape Canaveral Space Force station.
Generating 1.7 million pounds of thrust, the 229-foot-high two-stage rocket lifted off from pad 40 and moved away eastward, crossing mostly clear skies and providing a spectacular spectacle to residents and tourists alike. of the region.
The first stage, making its fourth flight, propelled the rocket out of the lower atmosphere before falling and taking off to land on a SpaceX drone parked several hundred kilometers from Cape Canaveral. This was SpaceX’s 71st successful booster recovery and its 49th on an off-shore drone.
The second stage, meanwhile, continued the climb into space, firing two shots of its single engines before releasing the Turksat 5A communications satellite 33 minutes after takeoff.
The 7,500-pound relay station, built by Airbus Defense and Space for Turksat, has been deployed in a highly elliptical ‘transfer’ orbit and will use on-board plasma thrusters over the next four months to reach operational altitude at 22,300 miles above sea level. above the equator.
In orbit as the Earth rotates, the satellite’s 42 transponders will provide commercial broadband data relay and direct TV broadcast services across Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and the United States. ‘Africa. A second satellite, Turksat 5B, is expected to launch later this year.