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News / Nation & World

SpaceX knocks out Cape Canaveral launch during busy week with Crew-7 return, possible Starship flight

Company sends up another batch of Starlink satellites

By Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel
Published: March 10, 2024, 5:45pm

SpaceX sent up another batch of Starlink satellites on Sunday night from the Space Coast while prepping for the return of Crew-7 from the International Space Station and the potential third test flight of the Starship and Super Heavy.

A Falcon 9 carrying 23 of SpaceX’s internet satellites for its growing constellation lifted off at 7:05 p.m. Eastern Time from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40.

The first-stage booster flew for the 11th time with a recovery landing on the droneship Just Read the Instructions downrange in the Atlantic.

SpaceX said the fairings for the mission were used only 25 days ago when they launched on the USSF-124 mission, marking the fastest turnaround for fairing reusability.

This was the 16th launch from the Space Coast in 2024, but the beginning of a busy week for SpaceX. It was set to launch more Starlink satellites from California a few hours later on Sunday night, launch more from Cape Canaveral as early as Wednesday and support the return of the Crew Dragon Endurance from the International Space Station with its four passengers on the Crew-7 mission.

The quartet of NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Satoshi Furukawa and Roscosmos cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov have been on board the ISS since Aug. 27, 2023.

Their relief arrived last week when the Crew-8 mission that launched from Kennedy Space Center flying the Crew Dragan Endeavour arrived at the ISS, setting up their departure pending weather as early as 11:05 a.m. Monday and a splashdown off the Florida coast as early as 5:35 a.m. Tuesday in either the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico in one of seven locations.

SpaceX is also awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to try its third test launch of the Starship and Super Heavy rocket from its Starbase launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. It could fly as early as Thursday, according to a post on the company website.

The third attempt seeks to complete a successful ascent burn of both stages, open and close Starship’s payload door, demonstrate a propellant transfer while the upper Starship stage is in coast phase, relight one of the Raptor engines on that stage in space and perform a controlled reentry of Starship.

Instead of landing in the Pacific near Hawaii, SpaceX is aiming to send it to a splashdown in the Indian Ocean, a new flight path that “enables us to attempt new techniques like in-space engine burns while maximizing public safety,” according to the website.

“This rapid iterative development approach has been the basis for all of SpaceX’s major innovative advancements, including Falcon, Dragon, and Starlink,” the post reads. “Recursive improvement is essential as we work to build a fully reusable transportation system capable of carrying both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, help humanity return to the moon, and ultimately travel to Mars and beyond.”