Highlights of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Starlink 6-22 mission
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches 22 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida before the first stage booster landing.
Back in 2021, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center hosted 31 orbital rocket launches, a new annual record.
That number leaped to 57 launches last year — a new record representing a robust 84% increase.
SpaceX is targeting the Space Coast’s record-shattering 58th launch thus far this year for 10:17 p.m. EDT Saturday. If needed, five backup launch opportunities are available from 11:07 p.m. to 2:15 a.m. EDT Sunday.
If the Falcon 9 Starlink mission goes as planned, the Cape’s annual launch record will fall on Oct. 21 or 22 with more than two full months remaining in 2023.
“I’ve seen the massive growth and change. We used to be happy with eight or so shuttle launches a year,” said Don Platt, director of the Florida Institute of Technology’s Spaceport Graduate Center in Titusville.
“And then that would be modulated by what we called unmanned launches, which were mainly ULA launches. And that would get us up to 20 or so, most years,” said Platt, who has worked at the Spaceport site since 1998.
“So this is a very different beast now,” he said.
Cape Canaveral Space Force Station should see mostly clear skies Saturday night with a low around 64 and a north wind around 5 mph, becoming west after midnight, the National Weather Service reported.
The Space Force 45th Weather Squadron predicts a 95% chance of “go” weather for launch.
“By the evening hours, it will be difficult to find a cloud in the sky besides a few upper-level cirrus clouds, and the only concern is the very small chance of bumping up against liftoff wind constraints due to the westerly flow,” the squadron’s forecast said.
More: Tuesday’s SpaceX mission matches record pace set last year, with more still to come
The Starlink 6-24 mission will deploy another batch of the company’s internet-beaming satellites into low-Earth orbit.
After liftoff from Launch Complex 40, the 230-foot Falcon 9 will follow a southeasterly trajectory along Florida’s Atlantic coast before targeting a first-stage booster landing aboard a drone ship near the Bahamas.
In 2008, Platt chronicled annual space events as a consulting editor for McGraw Hill, which published an annual “Yearbook in Science & Technology.” That year, the United States — including Vandenberg Air Force Base in California — launched 24 objects into outer space, followed by Russia with 21 and China with 16, according to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.
In the coming years, Platt said Florida alone may host more launches than the entire world did during that era.
“A lot of it has been some of the modernization of not only the launch facilities, but also what’s called the range, which is the safety tracking capability to make sure that rockets don’t go out of control and go into populated areas. All of that has advanced and improved greatly,” Platt said.
“Obviously, SpaceX is leading the way,” he said.
SpaceX has launched 53 of 57 missions
SpaceX has accounted for all but four of the 57 rocket launches from the Cape this year. The exceptions:
On Oct. 13, SpaceX crews launched NASA’s Psyche spacecraft on its six-year mission to the asteroid belt using a Falcon Heavy rocket. Then eight hours and 42 minutes later, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket near sunset from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
That Friday the 13th doubleheader marked the shortest time between earth-to-orbit launches since Gemini 11 Agent Target Vehicle and Gemini Titan-11 launched from the Eastern Range in 1966, Space Launch Delta 45 officials announced.
“When you’re doing two launches in a day and both launches are SpaceX, that’s certainly a lot easier than if a launch in the morning was SpaceX, and ULA or somebody else was trying to do one in the afternoon or the evening,” Platt said.
“So in some ways, it’s kind of easier to have that many launches when they’re all from one corporate entity,” he said.
Follow FLORIDA TODAY’s Space Team live launch coverage beginning 90 minutes before liftoff. For the latest schedule updates from the Cape, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.
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Daisy Hips is a science communicator who brings the wonders of the natural world to readers. Her articles explore breakthroughs in various scientific disciplines, from space exploration to environmental conservation. Daisy is also an advocate for science education and enjoys stargazing in her spare time.