February 26, 2024

Launch summary: SpaceX will launch lunar module on Falcon 9’s 300th mission; JAXA intends to reach orbit with H3 rocket

In the week of the sixth anniversary of the Falcon Heavy’s first flight, SpaceX intends to launch four separate Falcon 9 missions. Meanwhile, JAXA is preparing for the second flight of the H3 rocket after its first unsuccessful launch in 2023, while Roscosmos will refuel the International Space Station (ISS) with the launch of Progress MS-26 on Soyuz.

On Tuesday evening, this week’s first batch of Starlink satellites will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 from SLC-4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) in California. On Thursday morning, another Falcon 9 will launch from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) to carry NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud and Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) Earth Observation Satellite to a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). Later in the week, SpaceX will again launch SLC-40, carrying another group of Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit.

Closing this extended week, there will be a triple campaign of launches coming from three different countries. The first will be the launch of IM-1 by SpaceX Nova-C LC-39A lunar lander at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Next, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will launch three payloads from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan in what is intended to be the first successful launch of the H3 rocket. Finally, a Soyuz 2.1a will be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, delivering supplies to the ISS.

SpaceX Falcão 9 | RHYTHM

On Thursday, February 8 at 1:25 a.m. EST (6:25 a.m. UTC), SpaceX will launch NASA’s PACE Earth observation satellite on a Falcon 9 from CCSFS’s SLC-40.

PACE is a long-term Earth observation satellite that will show constant models of global ocean color, cloud and aerosol data. This satellite has many different uses, all in one package, and will benefit humanity’s understanding of Earth by observing changes and inconsistencies to predict environmental phenomena such as weather, visibility and air quality.

The booster launching this mission is B1081-4, which will propulsively return to Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) shortly after launch. The second stage will insert PACE into a 676.5-kilometer Sun-synchronous polar orbit inclined 98 degrees.

SpaceX Falcão 9 | Starlink Group 7-13

After a delay from February 3 due to unfavorable recovery conditions, SpaceX is now targeting February 6 at 9:01 pm PST (February 7 at 5:01 am UTC) for the launch of Starlink Group 7-13 from SLC-4E to the Vandenberg Space Force, California.

22 Mini v2 satellites are expected to be lifted into a 53-degree inclined orbit on a southeast trajectory. The booster will land on the autonomous drone.”Of course I still love you.” downstream in the Pacific Ocean.

View of a stack of 21 Starlink v2 Mini satellites before they are included in their fairing. (Credit: SpaceX)

The specific booster set to launch the mission is not yet known. Group 7-13 will be the 11th SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of the year and the 25th orbital launch attempt of the year overall.

SpaceX Falcão 9 | Starlink Group 6-39

SpaceX will launch another stack of Starlink satellites on February 10 at 1 am EST (06 am UTC) from SLC-40 at CCSFS in Florida. Starlink Group 6-39 will have a payload of 23 Starlink v2 Mini satellites. These satellites will go into an initial low Earth orbit of 284 by 293 kilometers with a southeast trajectory inclined 43 degrees. The 23 satellites will add to the thousands of active Starlink satellites in orbit, providing Internet to people around the world.

The booster for this mission is unknown at this time, but it is believed to land on one of two autonomous droneships stationed on the East Coast. This will be the 27th total orbital launch of 2024, with almost half being Falcon 9 launches.

SpaceX Falcão 9 | Nova-C (IM-1)

The Falcon 9’s 300th flight and next mission to the Moon will launch on February 14 at 12:57 pm EST (05:57 am UTC). Falcon 9 is ready to take the top spot from Intuitive Machines Nova-C lunar module for a translunar injection. Taking off from historic LC-39A at KSC in Florida, the Falcon 9 will launch with an unknown booster and then return to LZ-1 while the second stage does the heavy lifting, carrying Nova-C to the Moon.

The IM-1 Nova-C lander during final assembly. (Credit: Intuitive Machines)

Nova-C is the next lunar lander in NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. CLPS was created to give private companiesThese are the resources to build commercial lunar probes to send NASA payloads to the Moon before the crewed landing of Artemis III. It will carry five NASA payloads and four private or university payloads with plans to study plume-surface interactions, radio astronomy and space weather interactions on the lunar surface. The probe will land in Malapert A, a crater near the Moon’s south pole.

SpaceX has upgraded the LC-39A fort with new propellant connections for charging Nova-C with liquid oxygen and liquid methane propellants while vertical on the launch pad. SpaceX recently carried out tests on the new system on the platform before the integrated vehicle is taken out for a wet dress rehearsal in the coming days.

The landing of Nova-C is planned for February 22, with the operating time on the lunar surface being almost 14 Earth days. Intuitive Machines is closely monitoring Astrobotics’ Peregrine Mission One – another CLPS probe – which failed to land on the Moon last month after a propulsion system malfunction.

If all goes well with this flight, Intuitive Machines has a second lunar lander scheduled to launch in the second quarter of this year to send more NASA, university and commercial payloads to the lunar surface.


The second flight of JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ (MHI) H3-22 rocket is scheduled for February 15 at 9:22 am JST (00:22 UTC) from LA-Y2 at the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. The H3 is classified as a launch vehicle medium lift and uses cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen in its first and second stages. The core rocket can then be optionally augmented by two or four solid rocket boosters.

This mission will use two boosters along with a short payload fairing, carrying three payloads into a Sun-synchronous orbit.

The first flight of the H3 suffered a second engine igniter failure, causing the test payload to fall short of orbit. Although flight two was originally planned to launch the ALOS-4 Earth observation satellite, the vehicle’s failure caused JAXA to choose to fly the Vehicle Evaluation Payload-4 (VEP-4) instead. dough simulatoralthough there are also two small satellites on board for this flight.

CE-SAT-1E is a 70-kilogram Earth observation satellite built by Canon Electronics Inc., and TIRSAT is a five-kilogram CubeSat 3U from Japan Space Systems for testing infrared sensors for Earth observation. While there is an inherent risk in flying an unproven rocket, customers are confident in the new vehicle’s ability to carry their payloads to orbit.

Roscosmos Soyuz 2.1a | MS-26 Progress

The next resupply mission to the ISS will be launched on a Soyuz 2.1a to low Earth orbit on February 15 at 9:25 am AQTT (03:25 UTC) from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This mission will take the Progress MS-26 to the ISS, transporting food, water, oxygen, fuel and more to keep the Station and its astronauts healthy.

This will be Soyuz 2.1a’s 74th mission overall, but the first of 2024. Progress MS-26’s docking time is unknown, as is the date of its departure from the Station. This will be the 179th Progress mission since the first flight in 1978.

(Top image: Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 Nova-C lander before encapsulation in the Falcon 9 payload fairing. Credit: SpaceX)

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