SpaceX's first Falcon 9 launch in 2024 to bring first 6 Starlink satellites directly into the cell – Spaceflight Now

A Falcon 9 rocket is ready to support the Starlink 7-9 mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base. The mission also includes the first six satellites that will be used for the company's direct-to-cell service. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX is wasting no time getting started on what it plans to be a historically busy year for orbital launches. The company plans to launch its Falcon 9 rocket on a mission via the Starlink satellite after sunset on Tuesday.

Liftoff is set for 6:31 PM PST (9:31 PM EDT, 0231 UTC) from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Of the 21 Starlink satellites to be launched Tuesday evening, six are the first to go live directly to the cell Capabilities.

Spaceflight Now will have live coverage of the launch starting 30 minutes before liftoff.

This launch was originally scheduled for mid-December, but SpaceX ran into undisclosed issues in the run-up to the launch and was forced to cancel the mission.

SpaceX said in a statement that adding DTC “will enable mobile network operators around the world to provide seamless global access to texting, calling and browsing… on land, lakes or coastal waters.”

During an August 2022 event featuring SpaceX founder Elon Musk and T-Mobile CEO and President Mike Seifert, Musk described the new addition as a “huge game-changer” that would help eliminate dead zones around the world.

“This is really important,” Musk said during the presentation. “Even if an entire region or country loses connectivity due to a severe hurricane, floods, fires, tornadoes, or earthquakes…even if all cell towers are taken down, your phone will still work.”

Schematic of Starlink direct-to-cell service. Graphic: SpaceX

According to a November 30, 2023 email sent to Katherine Medley, acting head of the FCC's Satellite Licensing Division, SpaceX expects to launch “approximately 840 satellites capable of direct cell communication over the next six months,” With additional launches continuing after that period.

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Planned and future launches “will ensure that we are able to launch a critical mass of satellites in time for commercial service later in 2024,” wrote Jameson Dempsey, director of satellite policy at SpaceX and author of the email.

“As such, while we recognize that the Commission may limit our test authority to satellites that we expect to launch and test within the next six months, we request that the launch license include authority for all 7,500 satellites to apply direct cell modification.”, Dempsey wrote.

Sievert noted during an August 2022 event that the upcoming service in the US will use T-Mobile's existing mid-band PCS spectrum.

“That allows us to then dedicate that, working together, to the constellation that Starlink operates in so we can see those satellites from every corner of the country,” Seifert said. “If you have a clear view of the sky, our vision is that you are connected.”

“Your phone doesn't know it's connected to space. It will search for its home network, and it will search for terrestrial roaming partners as well.” He added. “And if it fails to see those things, it will scan again and it will connect to the authorized connection from the satellite and it will think it is connected to a cell tower because this phone uses industry standard technology communications protocols and has the spectrum already integrated. At least, the vast majority of phones in circulation do.” Today you do it.

The Falcon 9 rocket supporting Tuesday's launch features a first-stage booster, tail number B1082, which will be fired for the first time on this mission. About 8.5 minutes after takeoff, the booster will land on the drone, “Of course I still love you.”

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