OneWeb’s launching 40 satellites

SpaceX, which manages its own internet constellation, will help OneWeb’s broadband network by launching 40 satellites atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday from Kennedy Space Center.

The 40 satellites are placed within the nose cone of the Falcon 9 rocket during final preparations for takeoff to pad 39A at Kennedy. The rocket will be lifted vertically at the launch pad for the last countdown procedures before liftoff, which is scheduled for 5:27 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (2227 GMT).

The 45th Weather Squadron of the U.S. Space Force predicts a 90% chance of good weather for Thursday’s launch. The sunset launch attempt is expected to take place under generally clear skies, with mild temperatures and north winds.

The Falcon 9 launcher was being prepared inside a hangar a quarter-mile south of pad 39A by SpaceX, which caused the launch to be postponed from earlier in the week.

The Falcon 9 countdown will be handed over by SpaceX’s launch team to an automated computer sequencer 35 minutes prior to liftoff. Before the launch at 5:27 p.m., about a million pounds of liquid oxygen and super-chilled, densified kerosene will be pumped into the 229-foot-tall rocket.

A minute prior to launch, the Falcon 9’s on-board computer will take over the countdown, managing the final pressurization of the propellant tanks and the engine startup sequence. Hold-down clamps will release to allow the Falcon 9 to start its climb off the launch pad as the rocket’s nine Merlin engines ignite and rev up to full power. If they pass a final health inspection, this will allow the rocket to launch.

From the Kennedy Space Center, the rocket will travel in a direction that crosses the Atlantic Ocean before turning south to travel parallel to Florida’s east coast. The Falcon 9 will be able to launch the 40 OneWeb satellites into a polar orbit thanks to its southerly launch trajectory.

2020 saw the use of the southern launch corridor by SpaceX for the first time since 1969 as it launched its first polar orbit mission from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The OneWeb mission, which will launch on Thursday, will be SpaceX’s eighth polar orbit launch from Florida and the first from pad 39A, the iconic seaside site first used for Saturn 5 rocket launches during the Apollo moon program.

For the flight into orbit, the 40 OneWeb satellites are stacked vertically inside the payload fairing of the Falcon 9. The nine engines on the Falcon 9’s first stage booster will run for 2 minutes and 17 seconds before they shut off and separate from the rocket’s upper stage. As the upper stage fires its lone engine to propel it into orbit,

The booster, which is completing its fourth space flight, will fire two more retrorockets with a portion of its engines to slow down for landing. After the launch, a touchdown at Landing Zone 1 is anticipated in 7 minutes and 45 seconds. There will be two sonic booms that can be heard all along Florida’s Space Coast as a result of the rocket landing.

Eight and a half minutes into the flight, the upper stage will finish its first burn, putting the OneWeb satellites into a temporary parking orbit. 55 minutes after launch, a three-second restart of the upper stage’s Merlin Vacuum engine is planned to circularize the orbit before the 40 OneWeb satellites are deployed.

The satellites will separate in groups over the course of a half-hour, with the final set of spacecraft expected to separate from the rocket after 1 hour and 29 minutes.

The OneWeb satellites will deploy solar panels and activate xenon ion thrusters to enter their operational orbit at an altitude of 745 miles (1,200 kilometers).

OneWeb’s satellites are built in a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus Defense and Space in a factory just outside the gates of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The satellites are intended to deliver low-latency broadband internet signals to customers worldwide. OneWeb, based in London, is one of several operators that have already launched or plan to launch large fleets of internet satellites.

Using its own Falcon 9 rockets, SpaceX has launched over 3,500 Starlink internet satellites.

OneWeb has launched 464 satellites of a planned 648-spacecraft first-generation constellation using 13 Russian Soyuz rockets purchased from Arianespace, the French launch services provider, and one flight on an Indian GLSV Mk.3 rocket. Amazon intends to launch the first two prototype internet satellites of a planned constellation of 3,236 spacecraft on the inaugural flight of United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket next year.

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