SpaceX is about to launch its next series of Starlink satellites – Spaceflight Now

Starlink ground station. Credit: SpaceX

After passing July without any launches, SpaceX is set to resume missions in August with Falcon 9 rocket flights from California and Florida to begin deploying Starlink satellites to new orbits.

Multiple sources have said that SpaceX is preparing to launch Starlink at least twice next month, beginning with the Falcon 9 mission departing from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, no later than August 10. Another Falcon 9 launch is scheduled to take a group of Starlink satellites into orbit in mid-August.

It will be the first SpaceX to launch since June 30, an unusually long gap in the company’s stressful launch schedule. SpaceX launched 20 Falcon 9 missions in the first half of the year, mostly for the company’s Starlink program.

The latest Falcon 9 mission to carry a full payload of Starlink satellites occurred on May 26.

Since then, SpaceX has activated hundreds of online spacecraft that have been delivered into orbit on previous Falcon 9 missions, bringing the number of operational Starlink vehicles from about 950 satellites to more than 1,300, according to Jonathan McDowell analysis, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a widely respected tracker of spaceflight activities.

More than 200 additional Starlink satellites drift to their operational positions in an orbit of 341 miles (550 kilometers) above Earth at an inclination of 53 degrees to the equator.

SpaceX has received regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to launch and operate up to 12,000 Internet relay satellites. The early stages of SpaceX’s Starlink network involve launching 4,408 satellites in five layers or orbital missiles into low Earth orbit.

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SpaceX has launched 1,740 Starlink satellites to date, including prototypes that are already retired, more than all other commercial satellite fleets combined. Most of the satellites were launched into orbit with an inclination of 53 degrees, the first of five orbital “shells” the company plans to complete the full deployment of the Starlink network.

With this projectile on the verge of having more than 1,500 active satellites, SpaceX is moving to a new stage of the Starlink program.

Completing Starlink’s first “shell” will enable the network to provide high-speed, low-latency Internet services to low latitudes, such as the southern United States. Partial deployment of the first orbital shell satellite initially provided service over the northern regions of the United States, Canada, and Europe, as well as higher latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere.

SpaceX, founded and led by billionaire Elon Musk, currently offers temporary internet services through Starlink satellites to consumers who have signed up for a beta testing program in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand, France, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands.

SpaceX’s other Starlink layers will include 1,584 satellites at 335 miles (540 km) and 53.2 degrees inclination, 720 satellites at 354 miles (570 km) and 70 degrees inclination, and 520 satellites spread out in two shells 348 miles (560) apart. kilometers) and an inclination of 97.6 degrees.

The Starlink mission scheduled to launch from Vandenberg next month, known as “Starlink 2-1,” will begin filling new orbital crust.

A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on November 21, 2020, aboard the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich oceanographic satellite. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s implementation with the FCC linked to Vandenberg’s Starlink launch vehicle telemetry links indicates that the company’s support landing platform, or drone ship, will be positioned in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California. The location of the drone ship indicates that the launch will target an orbit with an inclination of 70 degrees.

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An FCC implementation similar to next month’s Starlink launch from Cape Canaveral shows that the SpaceX drone ship will stop in the Atlantic Ocean in line with the missile’s trajectory heading toward a tilt of 53.2 degrees.

SpaceX recently moved one of its drone ships, called “Of Course I Still Love You,” from Florida to California to prepare for the upcoming Starlink missions from Vandenberg. Weeks later, a new drone ship called “A Shortfall of Gravitas” arrived in Port Canaveral to be stationed there alongside the “just read the instructions” drone ship.

More Starlink missions will follow launches in mid-August. SpaceX is expected to launch an average of one Starlink mission per month from Vandenberg over the next year, and there will be a regular rhythm of Starlink flights from Cape Canaveral as well.

SpaceX has not revealed what changes it plans to make to the next series of Starlink satellites, if any, that the company is building on an assembly line at a development facility in Redmond, Washington. A fully loaded Falcon 9 rocket can carry 60 first-generation quarter-ton Starlink satellites into orbit on each mission, but it’s not clear if that number could change on future flights.

In January, Musk said that SpaceX will offer inter-satellite laser links to all Starlink spacecraft starting in 2022. The Starlink satellites destined for polar orbit this year will be upgraded, on Twitter.

SpaceX launched 10 Starlink satellites into a 97.6-degree polar orbit on a co-flight mission in January. Three more Starlink payloads were launched in a similar orbit last month in a subsequent sharing flight.

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Those satellites feature inter-satellite laser links, which allow spacecraft to pass data and Internet traffic between each other without routing them through a ground station. The upgrade will allow SpaceX to provide an internet connection near the poles and in other areas without ground stations.

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Olga Dmitrieva

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