SpaceX vaults Turkish satellite in record turnaround, but one launch still left

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SpaceX late Saturday vaulted a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral mere hours after teams on the other side of the country did the same, securing the fastest turnaround in company history.

Just 18 hours and 17 minutes elapsed between SpaceX’s two flights: one from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 4:41 a.m., then another from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 10:58 p.m. ET. The former carried 52 Starlink internet satellites into orbit while the latter did the same with a Turkish communications satellite.

Both included drone ship landings and both were successful.

Saturday night’s launch marked the last time Turkey’s transport and infrastructure ministry outsourced its satellite production to foreign countries, in this case Airbus-based France. Turksat 5B included some components built in Turkey, but the country’s government now aims to produce 5B’s successors – 6A and 6B – domestically. Both are slated to launch from Florida on Falcon 9 rockets beginning in 2023.

“With our nationally produced satellites, we will become one of 10 countries capable of producing its own satellites,” Adil Karaismailoglu, minister of transport and infrastructure, said in a pre-launch conference. 

Once it reaches geostationary orbit 22,236 miles above Earth, Turksat 5B will cover government and commercial needs. It will also provide coverage to other countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

Last launch of the year

Despite the breakneck turnaround, SpaceX still isn’t done with 2021.

Yet another Falcon 9 rocket will fly from Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A, this time with an uncrewed Dragon capsule, at 5:06 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 21. The 24th resupply mission for NASA labeled CRS-24 will take thousands of pounds of cargo and science experiments to the International Space Station.

There should also be some Christmas presents stowed inside the autonomous capsule, though NASA has not yet confirmed what those might be.

The Space Force, meanwhile, said weather for the instantaneous window is only 40% “go,” meaning teams will not have an opportunity to wait out inclement conditions.

“An unsettled pattern will be in place across Central Florida and the spaceport for the first half of the upcoming week as a frontal boundary arrives in the state on Sunday and stalls out by early Monday,” Space Launch Delta 45 forecasters said Saturday.

In the event of a scrub, weather improves to 60% “go” for a backup attempt on Wednesday, Dec. 22.

Falcon 9 will target an Atlantic Ocean drone ship landing after liftoff.

For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.

Contact Emre Kelly at [email protected] or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly.

Launch Tuesday, Dec. 21

  • Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9
  • Mission: 24th International Space Station resupply
  • Launch Time: 5:06 a.m. ET
  • Launch Window: Instantaneous
  • Landing: Drone ship
  • Weather 40% “go”

Visit floridatoday.com/space at 4 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 21, for live updates and video of the launch.

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