Enlarge /. This series of Starlink missions will start with a used missile fairing.
With the launch of its next batch of Starlink satellites – the sixth batch of the company's 60 operational spacecraft – SpaceX plans to further expand the limits of reuse. With this mission, the company plans to fly the same first stage of Falcon 9 for the fifth time.
After completing a static fire test of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on Friday, the company is now targeting Sunday at 9:22 a.m.CET (13:22 UTC) for the mission from 39A launch complex at the Kennedy Space Center. The weather is expected to be favorable, with only a 10 percent chance of bad conditions due to too many cumulus clouds.
SpaceX also announced on Friday that it will reuse the rocket's payload fairing, which had previously flown on a Starlink mission in May 2019. This means that the only part of the Falcon 9 rocket that is not recycled is the second stage, which is powered by a single Merlin vacuum motor and pushes the satellites from the edge of space into space for more than 200 km the floor.
This particular first stage flew her first mission in July 2018 when she launched a series of Iridium satellites into orbit. Less than three months later, she launched her next mission, an Earth observation satellite for Argentina. Overall, this first stage between flights took an average of four months.
Since the introduction of the last iteration of the Falcon 9 rocket, called Block 5, SpaceX has been working to spin the first stages faster. The company expects to be able to recycle first stage rockets – from landing to reuse – in about 30 days. (So far, it has been possible to fly a first leg again about two months after landing). After each flight, a maintenance team opens the missile to check its joints for leaks, ensure the reliability of the avionics, check welds, and more. The company's engineers and technicians are still learning. As they get more data, they should be able to better understand what needs to be checked and what doesn't.
The company currently intends to fly each Falcon 9 missile ten times in the first stage before retiring. Some early stages flown early – variants of the Falcon 9, which were developed before the Block 5 iteration and were only rated for two flights – are now ending up in museums.
For the launch attempt on Sunday, SpaceX will try to restore this first stage on a drone ship in the Atlantic. Attempts are also being made to regain the fairing halves. This is the sixth start of the year for SpaceX.