SpaceX launches first mission for Starlink Gen2 constellation – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX launches first mission for Starlink Gen2 constellation – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX launches first mission for Starlink Gen2 constellation – Spaceflight Now

EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch a replay of our live coverage of the Falcon 9 launch on the Starlink 5-1 mission.



SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday carrying 54 additional Starlink Internet satellites, a mission to begin populating a new orbital shell approved by federal regulators earlier this month for the company’s Starlink Gen2 network.

The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on SpaceX’s Starlink 5-1 mission took place Wednesday at 4:34 a.m. EST (0934 GMT), about six minutes earlier than previously announced. The mission was SpaceX’s 60th launch of the year, with another Falcon 9 flight set to take off later this week from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, carrying an Israeli Earth satellite.

The 54 satellites launched Wednesday were the first spacecraft to deploy to a new segment of the Starlink constellation. The Falcon 9 rocket released the 54 satellites at an orbital altitude and inclination reserved for use by SpaceX’s second-generation Starlink network, which the company eventually plans to launch on the new Starship mega rocket.

SpaceX is developing a much larger, more powerful Starlink satellite platform that can send signals directly to mobile phones. But with the Starship’s first orbital test flight still pending, SpaceX officials have indicated they will launch the Gen2 satellites on Falcon 9 rockets. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, suggested in August that the company could develop a miniature version of the Gen2 satellites to fit on the Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX has released little information about the satellites it launched on Wednesday. It was unclear whether SpaceX will use the satellites to test new hardware or software for use on the Gen2 network.

But the conditions of the flight suggest that the Starlink satellites aboard the Falcon 9 rocket are similar in size to SpaceX’s existing Starlink spacecraft, not the larger Gen2 satellites destined to launch on the massive new Starship launcher. rocket, or even the mini Gen2 satellites Musk mentioned earlier this year. There were 54 satellites on the Falcon 9 launch vehicle due to fly Wednesday, the same number SpaceX has launched on many recent Starlink missions.

A view of the 54 Starlink satellites after separation from the Falcon 9’s payload streamline showed that the spacecraft is similar in appearance to the Internet satellites SpaceX has been launching since 2019.

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying an additional 54 Starlink Internet satellites at 4:34 a.m. EST (0934 GMT) on Wednesday. Credit: SpaceX

The Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 1 granted SpaceX approval to launch up to 7,500 of the planned Starlink Gen2 constellation of 29,988 spacecraft. The regulatory body delayed a decision on the remaining satellites SpaceX proposed for Gen2.

“This launch is the first of Starlink’s upgraded network,” SpaceX said on its website. “Under our new license, we can now deploy satellites in new orbits that will add even more capacity to the network. Ultimately, this allows us to add more customers and provide faster service, especially in areas that are currently oversubscribed.”

The FCC previously authorized SpaceX to launch and operate up to 12,000 Starlink satellites, including approximately 4,400 first-generation Ka-band and Ku-band Starlink spacecraft that SpaceX has launched since 2019. SpaceX also received regulatory approval to launch more than 7,500 Starlink satellites operating in a different V-band frequency.

SpaceX told the FCC earlier this year that it planned to consolidate the V-band Starlink fleet into the larger Gen2 constellation.

The Gen2 satellites could improve Starlink coverage in regions of lower latitudes and ease the strain on the network from growing consumer adoption. SpaceX said earlier this month that the network now has more than 1 million active subscribers. The Starlink spacecraft is beaming broadband Internet signals to consumers around the world, connectivity now available on all seven continents and being tested at a research station in Antarctica.

“Our action enables SpaceX to deploy Gen2 Starlink, which will bring next-generation satellite broadband to Americans across the country, including those who live and work in areas traditionally underserved or underserved by terrestrial systems,” the statement wrote. FCC partially in its December 1 order. approval of the Starlink Gen2 constellation. “Our action will also enable global satellite broadband services, closing the digital divide on a global scale.

“At the same time, this limited grant and its terms and conditions will protect other satellite and terrestrial operators from harmful interference and maintain a safe space environment, promote competition, and protect spectrum and orbital resources for future use,” the FCC wrote. “We are suspending action on the rest of the SpaceX application at this time.”

In particular, the FCC has granted SpaceX permission to launch the first block of 7,500 Starlink Gen2 satellites into orbit at 525, 530 and 535 kilometers, with inclinations of 53, 43 and 33 degrees, respectively, using Ku-band and Ka-band frequencies. The FCC delayed a decision on SpaceX’s request to operate Starlink Gen2 satellites in higher and lower orbits.

Wednesday’s Starlink 5-1 mission targeted the 530-kilometer-high (329 mi) orbit with an inclination of 43 degrees relative to the equator.

The Starlink 5-1 mission will launch 54 Internet satellites into orbit. Credit: Spaceflight Now

Following Wednesday’s mission, SpaceX has launched 3,666 Starlink satellites on more than 60 Falcon 9 rocket missions, including prototypes and failed spacecraft. The company currently has more than 3,200 operating Starlink satellites in space, with approximately 3,000 operational and nearly 200 in operational orbit. according to a table by Jonathan McDowellan expert tracker of spaceflight activity and an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The first-generation Starlink network architecture includes satellites flying several hundred miles up, in orbits with inclinations of 97.6 degrees, 70 degrees, 53.2 degrees, and 53.0 degrees relative to the equator. Most of SpaceX’s recent Starlink launches have released satellites in Shell 4, with an inclination of 53.2 degrees, after the company largely completed launches in its first 53-degree inclination shell last year.

Shell 5 of the Starlink network was generally believed to be one of the constellation’s polar layers, with an inclination angle of 97.6 degrees. But the name of Wednesday’s mission – Starlink 5-1 – could suggest that SpaceX has changed the naming scheme for the Starlink shells.

The SpaceX launch team was stationed at a launch control center just south of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for Wednesday’s dawn countdown. SpaceX began loading supercooled, compressed kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the Falcon 9 vehicle at T-minus 35 minutes.

Helium propellant also poured into the rocket in the last half hour of the countdown. In the last seven minutes before launch, the Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines were thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as “chilldown”. The Falcon 9’s guidance and range safety systems were also configured for launch.

After launch, the Falcon 9 rocket sent its 1.7 million pounds of thrust — produced by nine Merlin engines — to steer southeast across the Atlantic. The launch marked the resumption of Starlink missions from Cape Canaveral using the southeast launch corridor, as SpaceX used last winter to take advantage of better sea conditions for the landing of the Falcon 9’s first stage booster.

Throughout the summer and fall, SpaceX launched Starlink missions on trails to the northeast from Florida’s Space Coast.

A Falcon 9 rocket hurtles southeast from Cape Canaveral in this long-exposure photo. Credits: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

The Falcon 9 rocket exceeded the speed of sound in about a minute and then shut down its nine main engines two and a half minutes after launch. The booster stage separated from the Falcon 9’s upper stage and then fired pulses from cold gas control thrusters with extended titanium grille fins to send the vehicle back into the atmosphere.

Two braking burns slowed the missile for landing on the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” about 410 miles (660 kilometers) downrange about nine minutes after launch.

The Falcon 9’s reusable fairing was jettisoned during the second stage burn. A salvage vessel was also on station in the Atlantic to retrieve the two halves of the nose cone after splashing down under parachutes.

The landing of the first stage on Wednesday’s mission occurred shortly after the Falcon 9’s second stage engine shut down to launch the Starlink satellites into orbit. The separation of the 54 Starlink spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, from the Falcon 9 rocket occurred nearly 19 minutes after launch. SpaceX had to wait for the rocket to pass a ground station in Guam to confirm the separation between Starlink and the upper stage.

The Falcon 9’s guidance computer aimed to place the satellites in an elliptical orbit with an inclination of 43 degrees from the equator, with altitudes varying between 131 miles and 210 miles (212 by 338 kilometers). After separating from the rocket, the 54 Starlink spacecraft will deploy solar arrays and go through automated activation steps, then use ion engines to maneuver into their operational orbit.

ROCKET SHIP: Falcon 9 (B1062.11)

LOAD CAPACITY: 54 Starlink satellites (Starlink 5-1)

LAUNCH SITE: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

LAUNCH DATE: December 28, 2022

LAUNCH TIME: 4:34:00 AM EST (0934:00 GMT)

WEATHER FORECAST: More than 90% chance of acceptable weather; Low risk of upper-level wind; Moderate risk of adverse conditions for booster recovery

BOOSTER RECOVERY: The drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” northeast of the Bahamas

START AZIMUTH: Southeast

GOAL JOB: 131 miles by 210 miles (212 kilometers by 338 kilometers), incline of 43.0 degrees

LAUNCH TIMELINE:

  • T+00:00: Launch
  • T+01:12: Maximum Aerodynamic Pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:29: First stage main engine shutdown (MECO)
  • T+02:32: Step separation
  • T+02:39: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+02:44: Throw cockpit overboard
  • T+06:44: Step-in ignition first stage (three engines)
  • T+07:00: First stage entrance burn
  • T+08:26: Fire ignition first stage landing (one engine)
  • T+08:38: Engine cut second stage (SECO 1)
  • T+08:47: First stage landing
  • T+18:43: Starlink satellite separation

MISSION STATISTICS:

  • 193rd launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • 202nd launch of the Falcon family of rockets since 2006
  • 11th launch of Falcon 9 booster B1062
  • 165th Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
  • 107th Falcon 9 launch from pad 40
  • 162nd general launch from pad 40
  • 132nd flight of a repurposed Falcon 9 booster
  • 67th Falcon 9 launch dedicated primarily to the Starlink network
  • 59th Falcon 9 launch of 2022
  • 60th SpaceX launch in 2022
  • 57th orbital launch attempt from Cape Canaveral in 2022

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.





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