In a nighttime launch, SpaceX send a SiriusXM satellite into orbit and landed the first stage booster of the Falcon 9 rocket on the drone barge “Just Read the Instructions.” The launch went off early in its two-hour launch window despite only a 60% chance of favorable weather conditions. This marks the third launch and landing of that particular booster.
The booster had previously been used to launch two astronaut crews to the International Space Station as part of SpaceX’s Commercial Crew contract with NASA. It was most recently used to send the Crew-1 astronauts to the space station, marking the first time that a NASA crew launched on a completely reusable booster that needs only a minimum of maintenance between launches.
SpaceX also expects to retrieve the fairings that protect cargos while they launch, although it recently ditched its efforts to catch the fairings with nets as they fall toward the ocean. The company says that it recently upgraded the fairings to better withstand the corrosive seawater and refurbishing fairings that have fallen into the ocean will be less costly than the operation of the two recovery ships that it had named Ms. Chief and Ms. Tree.
The new satellite is part of SiriusXM’s efforts to upgrade its satellite system. This is the second of two satellites slated to be launched under the satellite radio company’s contract with SpaceX. This satellite will be capable of delivering radio content to subscribers in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean.
SpaceX launched the first satellite in December 2020. However, that satellite suffered a payload failure while maneuvering to its designated orbit. SiriusXM says that it had the satellite fully insured and plans to build a replacement. It also says that its existing satellites, including the ones that the two new satellites are meant to replace, have enough expected lifespan left to provide coverage for its subscribers while it waits for the replacement to be completed.
This most recent launch marks the eighteenth launch for SpaceX this year and the 87th time that it has successfully landed a rocket stage on one of its drone barges. It seems to be accelerating its schedule for launching more Starlink satellites as part of its efforts to develop the largest planned satellite Internet constellation. This includes four Starlink launches in May to bring the total number of functional Starlink satellites to 1,737.
It has also recently launched a resupply mission to the International Space Station that includes new and improved solar panels that will supplement the station’s ability to generate its own power, as well as baby squids and tardigrades meant for scientific studies.
Upcoming launches in June include a next-generation GPS satellite for the Space Force, which is scheduled to go up on June 17. This will mark the first time that SpaceX has launched a military payload on a reused rocket, which can help taxpayers save money on launch services. The Space Force had signed off on using previously flown boosters for its GPS satellites last September.