SpaceX will attempt to launch another batch of 60 Starlink satellites today at 2:59 p.m. ET (6:59 p.m. UTC) from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida. This is the 28th global launch of operational Starlink satellites.
The most notable aspect of today’s mission is that it would be the 100th consecutive successful flight for the company. This record dates back to June 2015, when the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket failed during the launch of a cargo supply mission to the International Space Station. The Dragon capsule was lost after the second stage burst and sank in the Atlantic Ocean.
Since then, the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets have seen an unblemished streak of 99 successful launches, many of which also resulted in landings. SpaceX lost an additional mission, but that did not happen during a launch. On the contrary, the payload of the Amos-6 exploded in September 2016 during a thruster loading that preceded a static fire test. The company has safely launched 90 rockets since the Amos-6 crash.
Today’s mission rocket has only been launched once, bolstering the Sentinel-6A Earth science mission for NASA last November. This launch took place from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, and the first stage has since been shipped across the country to Florida. It seems likely that one or more Merlin engines were replaced in Stage One because SpaceX performed a static fire test of the vehicle earlier this week, which the company typically doesn’t do before a Starlink mission.
SpaceX has rarely used such a “young” rocket for a Starlink mission. This may suggest that the company’s customers are becoming more and more comfortable with the Falcon 9’s first stages with more experience, or that SpaceX is launching so quickly that it was just the next rocket. This will be the 16th Falcon 9 rocket launch this year, which means that if SpaceX is launched today, it will stay on pace to perform an orbital launch attempt every nine days in 2021.
The majority of the company’s launches so far this year, 13 out of 16, have carried Starlink satellites, as SpaceX continues to develop its constellation to provide high-speed internet from low earth orbit. However, it seems likely that the majority of the company’s upcoming launches this summer will focus on projects for customers, including the 22nd cargo resupply mission for NASA, a GPS III satellite for the US Space Force, and a Sirius XM satellite. These three launches could all take place from Florida within the next month.
The company’s webcast for today’s launch attempt is expected to begin approximately 15 minutes before takeoff.