Launches: SpaceX tests Starship, wins customers

SpaceX conducts an engine test on Starship 24 at its Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas on August 9, 2022. This week (September 19, 2022), they again fired Super Heavy Booster 7. This is the first time that 7 Raptor 2 engines are ignited at the same time. On Monday, SpaceX launched another batch of Starlink satellites. Read more in Launches. Picture via SpaceX.

Launches: SpaceX tests Starship, wins customers

SpaceX is putting rockets into orbit faster than any aerospace group — past or present, public or private — has ever done. And CEO Elon Musk has set his sights on 100 or more flights in 2023. The company is moving quickly to get its Starship heavy-lift vehicle off the ground again. This time it will be for a full orbital test. New customers line up to put their payloads aboard the company’s trusty Falcon 9, the workhorse.

They have the best mousetrap

A carpool launch of five satellites to Iridium Communications NEXT Program is the most recent takeover. The satellites flying on the Iridium-9 mission are spares for the company’s global broadband satellite constellation. According to a September 8, 2022, Press release of Iridium, SpaceX has already flown eight Iridium missions over the past five years. The next take-off will take place next year:

Known as Iridium-9, the launch is expected to take place at Vandenberg Space Force Base in mid-2023. Earlier this year, Iridium celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first launch in Iridium’s history, which also took place from Vandenberg on May 5, 1997. This very first launch also carried five Iridium satellites into orbit on a Delta rocket II.

Iridium CEO Matt Desch praised SpaceX’s performance while explaining why the company is now putting most of its spare satellites in place:

Our constellation is incredibly healthy; however, the spare satellites are of no use to us on the ground. We have built additional satellites as an insurance policy, and with SpaceX’s excellent track record, we look forward to another successful launch, which will position us even better to replicate the longevity of our first constellation.

ESA says do svidaniya at Roscosmos launches

SpaceX will likely see a long waiting list for customers eager to get their satellites into the hands of the most reliable route. This is especially true now that Russia seems to be almost entirely excluded from the international aerospace sector.

During interview last month with Ars-TechnicaDirector General of the European Space Agency Joseph Aschbacher made it clear that he and other ESA representatives are horrified by Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The disgust is so intense that the Europeans have terminated all business with Roscosmos. Roscosmos is the Russian space agency that has been a leading launch provider for both crewed and uncrewed travel to the ISS.

The decision to sever ties is purely moral, he said:

I’m really disgusted by the invasion of Ukraine. We see it every day. What is happening there does not correspond to our European values ​​and we cannot work with a partner who completely flouts these values.

As ESA struggles to get its Ariadne 6 airworthy, it had a handful of launches booked across Russia. They canceled those, he said Ars-Technicaleaving a void, SpaceX can help fill:

We had five Soyuz launches planned, and they were scrapped. At the moment I am in contact with various operators. SpaceX is one of them, but also Japan, India, and basically we want to see if, in principle, our satellites can be launched on their rockets.

Aim for a new launch record in 2023

The Falcon 9 launch of another set of Starlink communications satellites on Monday (September 19, 2022) marked the 40th time SpaceX has launched its fully reusable boosters. This is a new annual launch record for the company. Next year, CEO Musk said he plans to launch more than double the number of vehicles. The announcement, as is often the case, took the form of a casual tweet. This was a response to a comment that the company was setting a pace of one launch every 6.2 days in 2022.

Launch on SpaceX spacecraft

Some of those launches could head into space aboard the company’s super heavy lift vehicle, the Starship. Starship Booster 7, which will be used when the vehicle finally gets a full orbital test flight, hit another milestone this week. A test fire of seven engines went off without a hitch. During a previous engine test, unburned fuel ignited under the booster, causing a spectacular but mostly harmless explosion.

There was no such anomaly this time around, and Musk shared the test video from Tuesday, September 19, 2022:

The powerful Raptor 2 engines kicked up a cloud of yellow Texas dust that obscured the craft. This show has become iconic at the Boca Chica facility.

Conclusion: SpaceX plans to make at least 100 space trips in 2023, including new flights for former customers and former customers of the shunned Russian space agency.

About Hannah Schaeffer

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