58 Starlinks scattered across sky, Rocket Lab aims for back-to-back launches, and Skyrora hops 6km above Shetland

Plus: SpaceX tests a Starship tank to destruction

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Roundup It was a busy weekend for lovers of rockets: SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 from the US, Rocket Lab dodged the New Zealand wind with an Electron and in the UK Skyrora reached 6km altitude from Shetland.

More Starlinks take to the sky as SpaceX nails another landing

SpaceX lobbed another 58 Starlink satellites into orbit last week, along with three of Planet's SkySats (tagging along for SpaceX's SmallSat Rideshare programme).

The booster, B1059, had last seen action in March, launching the Dragon CRS-20 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). It had first been used in December 2019 for the CRS-19 mission. For both its previous missions, the first stage of the Falcon 9 had performed the impressive feat of landing back on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Landing Zone 1. For this flight the booster upped the ante with a return to the "Of Course I Still Love You" drone ship, stationed in the Atlantic.

The launch itself took place at 09:21 UTC from SLC-40 (as with the previous two lift-offs).

The skygazer-bothering is to continue unabated as the company plans another launch later this month and again in July to further pepper the sky with Starlink streaks. Both launches are expected to continue the ride sharing seen on last week's Falcon 9.

Rocket Lab launches 'Don't Stop Me Now', 'Pics Or It Didn't Happen' waiting in the wings

After a wind-induced delay, Rocket Lab conducted the 12th successful launch of its Electron rocket over the weekend. The booster took off from the company's New Zealand Launch Complex 1 facility at 05:12 UTC on 13 June 2020 and deposited its payload, including three small satellites for the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

The company is aiming to demonstrate a rapid turnaround time with another launch from the same facility within the next three weeks. The mission, dubbed "Pics Or It Didn't Happen", is targeting a launch no earlier than 3 July 2020 from Pad A and will deploy seven satellites to a 500km orbit.

Named for the imaging nature of the payload, the primary craft on board is Canon Electronics' CE-SAT-IB, a microsatellite aimed at showing off the company's high-resolution and wide-angle imaging tech ahead of possible mass production.

Also loaded up will be five Planet satellites, the latest generation of the company's SuperDove Earth-observation satellites, and finally Faraday-1, a 6U cubesat supplied by In-Space missions which will demonstrate a software-defined payload.

There are no plans to attempt a recovery of the Electron booster this time around. Having already demonstrated that the first stage can indeed survive re-entry, it won't be until the 17th launch (tentatively scheduled for later in 2020 if the cadence is met) that the company will equip an Electron with recovery hardware.

On that mission the plan is to try out Rocket Lab's parachute technology, although the company does not plan to snag the descending booster by helicopter. The hope is that it will be possible to fish the spent rocket from the water for inspection.

Skyrora fills the time before Skylark-L with a Nano launch from Shetland

Edinburgh-based Skyrora showed off its diminutive Skylark Nano rocket with a launch to 6km from the Fethaland Peninsula at Shetland's North Roe. It was the first of its kind for the Scottish islands and the third time the blue touchpaper had been lit for the Nano.

The 13 June mission was aimed at collecting meteorological data, education outreach and, perhaps most importantly, giving the Skyrora team a bit more training in operations and trajectories ahead of upcoming future missions including the impending launch of the already static-fired Skyrora L.

Skyrora is pondering which of the three proposed spaceports in Scotland it will launch from and described Shetland as "a potential option" for the future.

SpaceX continues record of destroying Starship tanks

Elon Musk's rocketeers continued efforts to deal with the Starship's habit of either exploding or imploding by testing the SN7 tank to destruction. Ahead of the expected demise of the tank, Musk acknowledged that there were a "few known weak points" on the test tank, which he reckoned would be addressed in a follow-up.

The tank eventually gave way when the pressure reached 7.6 bar. Those hoping for some popping action were to be disappointed as the tank did not actually burst this time round. Leaking rather than bursting was "highly desirable," according to Musk, who went on to say that the switch to 304L stainless steel for the manufacture of the tank had gone well, and that the company planned to develop its own alloy. ®

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