SpaceX launches 114 small satellites on first mission of 2023 – Spaceflight Now

Watch a replay of our live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. The Transporter 6 mission launched 114 small payloads from customers around the world. Follow us on Twitter.

SpaceX’s first launch of the year fired away from Cape Canaveral Tuesday and hauled 114 small satellites into polar orbit for operators in 23 countries, deploying a range of payloads for tech demo, Earth observation, and communication missions.

A 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket did the lifting, kicking off the mission at 9:56 a.m. EST (1456 GMT) with a thundering launch from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The launch marked the 1st of as many as 100 missions on SpaceX’s schedule for 2023, following a record 61 launches last year.

Launch pads on Florida’s Space Coast were busier than ever last year, with 57 rocket flights aiming to put payloads into orbit. The U.S. Space Force is preparing for as many as 87 launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center in 2023. Read our earlier story for details on the 2023 launch schedule.

For Tuesday’s mission, the Falcon 9 headed southeast from Cape Canaveral, then veered south along Florida’s east coast to place the mission’s 114 payloads into polar orbit. The first stage fired its nine Merlin engines for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, then separated from the Falcon upper stage to begin its return to Florida.

The first stage pulsed cold gas nitrogen thrusters to flip around and fly tail-first, then ignited three of the Merlin engines for a boost-back burn to reverse course and head back to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The booster extended titanium grid fins as it slowly cartwheeled at the edge of space, providing aerodynamic aids to help steer the rocket back through the atmosphere. Then the rocket fired three of its engines again for a re-entry burn. After slowing to a velocity less than the speed of sound, the rocket lit its center engine for a final braking maneuver just before a vertical touchdown on four legs at Landing Zone 1, less than 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the launch pad.

The reusable first stage on Tuesday’s mission — tail number B1060 — aced its 15th launch and landing, tying a record for the most-flown booster in SpaceX’s inventory. It debuted in June 2020 on a mission carrying a GPS navigation satellite into space, and most recently flew Oct. 8 on a mission with two Intelsat TV broadcasting satellites.

While the booster returned to Cape Canaveral Tuesday the Falcon 9’s second stage engine burned about six minutes to reach a preliminary parking orbit. After coasting over Central America, the Pacific Ocean, and Antarctica, the upper stage briefly restarted its engine for two seconds around 55 minutes into the mission to place the satellite payloads into a near-circular orbit at an altitude of about 326 miles (525 kilometers), and an inclination of 97.5 degrees to the equator.

Then the Falcon 9 rocket began a carefully choreographed deployment sequence to release its menagerie of payloads. The deployment sequence started at T+plus 58…

Read More: SpaceX launches 114 small satellites on first mission of 2023 – Spaceflight Now

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