SpaceX launches the 2,000. Starlink Satellite – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket strikes orbit with 49 more Starlink Internet satellites. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

A package of 49 Starlink satellites that launched a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit Tuesday night from Florida included 2,000. spacecraft sent into SpaceX’s broadband Internet network.

The successful orbital deployment of SpaceX’s latest 49 satellites brought the total number of Starlink spacecraft built and launched to 2,042, including prototypes and test bearers that are no longer in operation.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, tweeted on Saturday that the company has 1,469 active Starlink satellites, plus 272 spacecraft still maneuvering to their operational orbits. He added that the laser inter-satellite connections used to send Internet traffic from spacecraft to spacecraft without going through a ground station will soon be activated.

More than 200 Starlink satellites have failed or been taken out of service. Some of these Starlink spacecraft were earlier models, either used as test versions or obsolete.

The latest Starlink mission was the 35th dedicated Falcon 9 launch to build the network.

The 229-foot (70-meter) launch vehicle took off from Cushion 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 1 p.m. 21:02:40 EST Tuesday (0202: 40 GMT Wednesday) and climbed into the moonlit sky and curved downward in a southeasterly direction across the Atlantic Ocean.

A Falcon 9 rocket passes the moon Tuesday night. Credit: SpaceX

The mission was originally scheduled to take off Monday night, but SpaceX delayed the flight by one day to wait for improved weather conditions at the Falcon 9 booster’s offshore recovery site near the Bahamas.

SpaceX bypassed another launch option at. 19.04 EST Tuesday without explanation and targeted instead of a backup launch site at. 21.02

Nine Merlin engines ramped up to full throttle, generating 1.7 million pounds of traction to propel the Falcon 9 from the launch pad.

A high-magnification night-vision tracking camera showed that the rocket’s first stage shut down its engines two and a half minutes inside the mission. The booster stage was thrown off moments later, and the second stage ignited its Merlin engine with a puff of exhaust to continue the increase in orbit.

The first stage followed a parabolic trajectory that briefly hovered over the atmosphere beyond the edge of space before crashing back to Earth for a propulsive landing on SpaceX’s drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” about 400 miles (650 kilometers) southeast of Cape Canaveral near the Bahamas .

The landing on the finish line completed the 10th flight of the booster used on Tuesday night’s mission. The booster – tail number B1060 – debuted on June 30, 2020 with the launch of a US military GPS navigation satellite.

The booster has sent 487 satellites into space on its 10 missions, and the successful landing Tuesday night gives the rocket a chance for an 11th flight when the drone returns to Port Canaveral. SpaceX has now flown four of its reusable boosters at least 10 times, with one rocket already logging 11 missions.

The top tier of the Falcon 9 delivered its 49 Starlink satellites payload in orbit nearly nine minutes after departure Tuesday night.

The rocket passed out of range of SpaceX’s ground stations before releasing the satellites, so the ground crews were unable to confirm the launch event until the Falcon 9 flew around the world and back over a tracking site in Alaska around 1 p.m. 22:30 EST (0330 GMT)).

Telemetry transmitted through the Kodiak Island site indicated that the 49 Starlink satellites were separated in orbit close to the intended altitude and slope. The target circuit varied in altitude between 130 miles and 210 miles (210 by 339 kilometers), with a slope of 53.2 degrees to the equator.

The confirmation of satellite separation ended this year’s third Falcon 9 launch, following missions Jan. 6 and Jan. 13 from Florida’s Space Coast with a previous batch of Starlink satellite and Transporter 3 small satellite carpooling flights.

Tuesday night’s mission, officially named Starlink 4-6, paves the way for two more SpaceX launches from Florida on January 27 and January 29 with an Italian radar remote sensing satellite and another group of Starlink spacecraft, respectively.

SpaceX has a long-term plan to launch as many as 42,000 Starlink satellites, according to a corporate filing with the International Telecommunication Union. The company’s first focus is on installing thousands of satellites in five orbital “shells”.

The shell with a slope of 53.2 degrees, the target for Tuesday night’s launch, is one of the five orbital shells with different tilt angles that SpaceX plans to fill with about 4,400 satellites to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband connection around the world. The first shell, at 53.0 degrees, was filled with its full number of satellites in May last year.

Earlier this month, SpaceX said the Starlink network is now live in 25 countries and regions, serving more than 145,000 users worldwide. SpaceX is building its Starlink satellites on an assembly line in Redmond, Washington, and the company is developing and iterating its own user terminals.

SpaceX hopes to use revenue from the Starlink business unit to help fund the company’s ambitions to complete the development of the heavy Starship rocket, a massive fully reusable launch pad designed to eventually replace the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

The 49 Starlink satellites launched Tuesday night – each about a quarter of a tonne in mass – will deploy solar panels and use ion thrusters to climb to an operational altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers).

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.

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