SpaceX rockets past 4,000 Starlink satellites in orbit with another Falcon 9 launch – Spaceflight Now

Watch a replay of our live coverage of the countdown and launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Starlink mission 5-6 at 3:31 AM EST (0731 GMT) on May 4 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Space Force Station Cape Canaveral, Florida. Follow us Twitter.

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SpaceX surpassed more than 4,000 Starlink internet satellites into orbit by launching a Falcon 9 rocket and another group of 56 spacecraft Thursday from Cape Canaveral, the company’s fourth mission in less than a week.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 3:31 a.m. EDT (0731 UTC) Thursday. The Predawn mission was SpaceX’s 30th launch of the year, keeping the company on pace for nearly 100 rocket flights in 2023, up from 61 missions last year.

Thursday’s launch, numbered Starlink 5-6 in the SpaceX mission statement, added 56 Starlink satellites to the company’s global broadband constellation, bringing the total number of Starlink spacecraft launched to 4,340.

SpaceX currently has more than 3,900 Starlink satellites operating in space, with approximately 3,400 operating and more than 400 of them moving into operational orbits, According to tabular by Jonathan McDowellan expert in spaceflight activity tracking and an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

McDowell’s stats show that for the first time, SpaceX has more than 4,000 Starlink satellites in orbit, including 56 new spacecraft on Thursday’s mission. The rest of the Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX have been decommissioned and deorbited after completing their missions, or after technical failures.

Thursday’s mission continued the deployment of SpaceX’s older-generation Starlink V1.5 satellites, after two launches earlier this year that began putting a new generation of Starlink satellites into orbit. The new satellites, known as the Starlink V2 Mini design, are larger and provide four times the bandwidth capacity of the older design satellites.

The first 21 Starlink V2 Mini satellites were launched on February 27 on a Falcon 9 rocket, but some of the satellites ran into problems after reaching space. A few of the spacecraft in the first batch of Starlink V2 Mini satellites were de-orbited, and SpaceX has held others back from entering operational service. Some Starlink V2 Minis appear to be maneuvering to different locations in the Starlink constellation, presumably to start commercial Internet service, according to McDowell’s website.

The new Starlink V2 Minis carry upgraded phase array antennas, a more efficient electric thrust system and argon thrust. They also have two solar arrays, compared to the single expandable solar panel in each Starlink V1.5 spacecraft.

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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is vertical on a pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on May 3, hours before a scheduled launch with 56 Starlink internet satellites. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now

The Starlink V1.5 satellites on Thursday’s Starlink 5-6 mission are similar to the Starlink spacecraft that SpaceX has launched over the past several years, but they’re headed to an orbital plane, at least in organizational terms, part of SpaceX’s second-generation, or Gen2, network. .

SpaceX began launching satellites to the Gen2 network in December, starting constellations of new orbital aircraft with older-design satellites until the larger Starlink spacecraft design is ready to take over entirely.

The Starlink V2 Mini satellites that SpaceX began launching in February represent an intermediate step between the smaller Starlink V1.5 spacecraft and the larger full-size Starlink V2s, which SpaceX plans to put into orbit using the company’s new spacecraft rocket.

Starlink V2s will be able to transmit signals directly to mobile phones. But with the Starship rocket still in its experimental phase, SpaceX has begun launching Gen2 satellites on Falcon 9 rockets and has upgraded V2 Minis to fit the company’s existing launch vehicles.

Starship has nearly 10 times the payload capacity of a Falcon 9 rocket, with a larger satellite size as well.

Federal Communications granted approval for SpaceX on December 1 to launch up to 7,500 of the planned 29,988 Starlink Gen2 constellations, which will be deployed in slightly different orbits than the original Starlink fleet. The regulatory agency has delayed a decision on the remaining proposed second-generation SpaceX satellites.

Specifically, the FCC has authorized SpaceX to launch the initial mass of 7,500 Starlink Gen2 satellites into orbits at 525, 530, and 535 kilometers, with inclinations of 53, 43, and 33 degrees, respectively, using Ku-band frequencies. and Ka-band. . Thursday’s Starlink 5-6 mission targeted a 43-degree inclination orbit in the constellation Starlink Gen2.

The FCC previously authorized SpaceX to launch and operate approximately 4,400 first-generation Ka-band and Ku-band Starlink spacecraft launched by SpaceX since 2019. SpaceX is in the final stages of filling out its first-generation Starlink network .

Gen2 satellites can improve Starlink’s coverage in low latitudes, and help relieve pressure on the network from increased consumer uptake. SpaceX says the network has more than 1 million active subscribers, most of whom are homes in areas where traditional fiber connectivity is unavailable, unreliable, or expensive.

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The Starlink spacecraft transmits broadband Internet signals to consumers around the world, and the means of communication is now available on all seven continents.

The Starlink 5-6 mission will carry 56 Starlink internet satellites into an orbit with an inclination of 43 degrees. Credit: Spaceflight Now

The first-generation Starlink network architecture includes satellites flying at an altitude of a few hundred miles, orbiting at inclinations of 97.6°, 70°, 53.2°, and 53.0° to the equator. Last year, most of SpaceX’s Starlink launches launched satellites in Shell 4, at an inclination of 53.2 degrees, after the company largely completed launches in its first 53-degree inclination structure in 2021.

During the early morning countdown Thursday, the SpaceX launch team was stationed inside the Launch Control Center south of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station monitoring key systems on the Falcon 9 rocket and at the launch pad. SpaceX began loading ultra-cold condensed kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the Falcon 9 vehicle in T-minus 35 minutes.

Helium pressure material also flowed into the rocket in the last half hour of the countdown. In the final seven minutes before liftoff, the Falcon 9 Merlin’s main engines are thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as a “chilldown”. The Falcon 9’s guidance and field safety systems are also configured for launch.

After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket channeled 1.7 million pounds of thrust—produced by nine Merlin engines—to steer southeast into the Atlantic Ocean. The Falcon 9 rocket exceeded the speed of sound in about one minute, then shut down its nine main engines two and a half minutes after liftoff. The booster stage separated from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fired pulses from cold gas control thrusters and extended titanium grille fins to help guide the vehicle back into the atmosphere.

Two brake burners slowed the missile as it touched down on the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” about 390 miles (630 kilometers) about eight and a half minutes after liftoff. The reusable booster, designated B1069 in SpaceX inventory, flew on its seventh flight into space Thursday.

The Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing was discarded during the second stage burn. The salvage ship was also on station in the Atlantic to recover the nose cone halves after they had been sprayed under parachutes.

The landing of the first stage in the mission on Thursday occurred around the same time that the Falcon 9’s second stage engine failed to deliver the Starlink satellites to a first standing orbit. The other upper stage burns 54 minutes into the mission, which reconfigured orbit before the payload separation.

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The Starlink 56 spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, has been confirmed to separate from a Falcon 9 rocket about 65 minutes after liftoff.

The Falcon 9’s guidance computer aims to deploy the satellites into an orbit at an inclination of 43 degrees to the equator, at an altitude of between 185 miles and 211 miles (298 by 340 kilometers). After separating from the rocket, the Starlink 56 spacecraft will launch the solar arrays and run through the automated activation steps, then use its krypton-fueled ion engines to maneuver into its operational orbit 329 miles (530 kilometers) above Earth.

rocket: Falcon 9 (B1069.7)

Payload: 56 Starlink satellites (Starlink 5-6)

Launch site: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Station, Florida

Lunch date: May 4, 2023

launch time: 3:31:00 a.m. EST (0731:00 GMT)

weather forecast: 95% chance of fair weather; low risk of upper level winds; Reduced risk of conditions unfavorable to an enhanced recovery

Recovery from boost: Drone vessel named “A Shortfall of Gravitas” northeast of the Bahamas


target orbit: 185 miles by 211 miles (298 kilometers by 340 kilometers), 43.0 degrees

Launch timeline:

  • T+00:00: take off
  • T+01:12: Max Air Pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:28: Main Engine Cutoff Phase 1 (MICO)
  • T+02:31: Phase separation
  • T+02:38: Second stage engine ignition (SES 1)
  • T+02:46: Quiet out
  • T+06:12: First stage entry burner ignition (three engines)
  • T+06:32: First stage entry afterburner cut off
  • T+08:09: First stage burner ignition (single engine)
  • T+08:30: First stage landing
  • T+08:40: Second stage engine cut off (SECO 1)
  • T+54:03: Second stage engine ignition (SES 2)
  • T+54:05: Second Stage Engine Cut Off (SECO 2)
  • T+1:04:51: Starlink satellite disconnected

Mission statistics:

  • The 221st launch of the Falcon 9 since 2010
  • The 232nd launch of the Falcon family since 2006
  • Seventh launch of Falcon 9 Booster B1069
  • Flight 163 of a repurposed Falcon booster
  • SpaceX launch 188th from the Florida Space Coast
  • 123 Falcon 9 launch from platform 40
  • 178th launch overall from the 40 board
  • The 82nd Falcon 9 launch is primarily for the Starlink network
  • The twenty-seventh Falcon 9 launch in 2023
  • 30th launch by SpaceX in 2023
  • Orbital launch attempt #22 from Cape Canaveral in 2023

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