SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Aces Test-Fire for Next Starlink Launch

SpaceX successfully test-fired a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida today (May 13), setting the stage for a predawn launch of a new fleet of Starlink internet satellites this weekend.

The SpaceX rocket ignited the nine Merlin engines on its first stage in a brief static fire test atop a pad at Space Launch Complex 40 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Liftoff is set for Sunday at 3:53 a.m. EDT (0753 GMT).

“Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete — targeting Sunday, May 17 at 3:53 a.m. EDT, 7:53 UTC, for the launch of the eighth Starlink mission, which will lift off from SLC-40 in Florida,” SpaceX wrote on Twitter today. 

Static-fire tests are routine preflight checks for SpaceX to ensure its rockets are ready for flight. The Falcon 9 rocket on this flight has flown four times before, launching two Starlink missions for SpaceX, as well as the Iridium-8 mission in 2019 and Telstar 18 VANTAGE satellite in 2018.

For this flight, the Falcon 9 will carry 60 Starlink satellites for SpaceX’s growing constellation of broadband internet satellites. The company has launched 422 satellites to date, making it the largest satellite fleet operator today.

The upcoming Starlink mission will be SpaceX’s eighth since mid-2019 and bring the number of satellites launched to 482. The Starlink constellation is designed to provide high-speed internet access to users around the world.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that at least 400 Starlink satellites would be required to begin internet service, with 800 satellites needed for moderate coverage. That service will be accessible through a ground-based terminal. SpaceX plans to launch at least 12,000 Starlink satellites for the main constellation.

Sunday’s Falcon 9 launch will mark the second time a SpaceX booster has flown five times (the first was in March of this year). The 229-foot-tall (70 meters) Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket capable of returning its first stage to Earth for a landing on either a ground-based pad or drone ship in the ocean.

SpaceX has been reusing Falcon 9 boosters since 2017. The company has made reusability a cornerstone of its rocket technology in order to lower the cost of spaceflight.

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