SpaceX launches first mission for Starlink Gen2 constellation – Now Spaceflight

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday with 54 more Starlink Internet satellites. It aims to begin filling the new orbital pod, which was approved by federal regulators earlier this month for the company’s Starlink Gen2 network.

The Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to lift off from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on SpaceX’s Starlink 5-1 mission at 4:34 a.m. Wednesday. The mission will be SpaceX’s 60th launch this year, and another Falcon 9 flight will take off later this week from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base with an Israeli Earth imaging satellite.

According to the US Space Force’s Cape Canaveral-based 45th Airlift Squadron, there is a more than 90% chance of favorable weather conditions for Wednesday’s launch.

The 54 satellites launched on Wednesday will be the first spacecraft to be placed in the new segment of the Starlink constellation. The Falcon 9 rocket will aim to launch 54 satellites at dedicated orbital altitudes and inclinations for use by SpaceX’s second-generation Starlink network, which the company plans to eventually launch on the company’s new Starship mega-rocket.

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

SpaceX has released little information about its Starlink 5-1 mission, which will lift off on Wednesday. It is unclear whether SpaceX will use the satellites to test new hardware or software to be used in its Gen2 network.

But the conditions of the flight indicate that the Starlink satellites on the Falcon 9 rocket are similar in size to SpaceX’s existing Starlink spacecraft, not the larger Gen2 satellites intended to fly on the giant new Starship rocket, or even Musk’s mini Gen2 satellites. was recorded earlier this year. The Falcon 9 launcher set to fly on Wednesday has 54 satellites, the same number that SpaceX has launched on many of its recent Starlink missions.

A file photo of the Falcon 9 rocket on pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

The Federal Communications Commission gave SpaceX the go-ahead on December 2. 1 will launch up to 7,500 of the Starlink Gen2 constellation of 29,988 planned spacecraft. The regulator has delayed a decision on the remaining SpaceX satellites proposed for Gen2.

“This launch is the first of Starlink’s upgraded network,” SpaceX said on its website. “Under our new license, we can put satellites into new orbits, which will add 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 the 4,400 first-generation Ka-band and Ku-band Starlink spacecraft that SpaceX has launched since 2019. SpaceX has also received regulatory approval to launch more than 7,500 Starlink satellites operating at a different V-band frequency.

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

Gen2 satellites can improve Starlink coverage in lower latitude regions and help reduce pressure on the network from growing consumer adoption. SpaceX announced earlier this month that the network has more than 1 million active subscribers. The Starlink spacecraft sends broadband Internet signals to consumers around the world, with connections currently available on all seven continents and ongoing testing at a research station in Antarctica.

“Our action will allow SpaceX to begin deploying Gen2 Starlink, which will deliver a next-generation broadband satellite network to Americans nationwide, including those who live and work in areas traditionally unserved or underserved by terrestrial systems,” the FCC said in December month. 1 order partially confirming the Starlink Gen2 constellation. “Our activity will also enable worldwide satellite broadband service and help bridge the digital divide globally.

“At the same time, this limited grant and related conditions will protect other satellite and ground operators from harmful interference and maintain a safe space environment, promote competition, and preserve spectrum and orbital resources for future use,” the FCC said. “We are currently postponing the rest of SpaceX’s deployment.”

Specifically, the FCC authorized SpaceX to launch an initial block of 7,500 Starlink Gen2 satellites into orbits of 525, 530, and 535 kilometers, with inclinations of 53, 43, and 33 degrees, respectively, using Ku-band and Ka-band frequencies. . The FCC has delayed a decision on SpaceX’s request to operate its Starlink Gen2 satellites in higher and lower orbits.

The Starlink 5-1 mission, which will fly on Wednesday, will aim for a 530-kilometer-high (329-mile) orbit at an inclination of 43 degrees to the equator.

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

Entering Wednesday’s mission, SpaceX had launched 3,612 Starlink satellites in more than 60 Falcon 9 rocket missions, including prototypes and failed spacecraft. The company currently has more than 3,200 Starlink satellites in space, with about 3,000 operational and about 200 in orbit. Based on Jonathan McDowell’s chartexpert observer of spaceflight activity and astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The first-generation Starlink network architecture includes satellites flying several hundred miles up, orbiting at inclinations of 97.6 degrees, 70 degrees, 53.2 degrees and 53.0 degrees to the equator. Most of SpaceX’s recent Starlink launches have launched satellites into Shell 4 at a 53.2-degree inclination, after the company largely completed its first 53-degree-inclined shell launches last year.

Shell 5 of the Starlink network was believed to be one of the polar-orbital layers of the constellation with an inclination of 97.6 degrees. But Wednesday’s mission name — Starlink 5-1 — may indicate that SpaceX is changing the naming scheme for its Starlink rockets.

SpaceX’s launch team will be stationed at the launch control center south of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for an early Wednesday morning countdown. In T-minus 35 minutes, the SpaceX team will begin loading supercooled, compressed kerosene and liquid oxygen fuels into the Falcon 9 vehicle.

The helium pressure regulator will also flow into the rocket during the last half hour of the countdown. In the final seven minutes before liftoff, the Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines will be thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as chilldown. Falcon 9’s guidance and range safety systems will also be configured for launch.

After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket will send 1.7 million pounds of thrust produced by nine Merlin engines southeast across the Atlantic Ocean. Just as SpaceX took advantage of better sea conditions last winter to land the Falcon 9’s first stage booster, the launch marks the resumption of Starlink missions from Cape Canaveral using the southeast launch corridor.

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

The Falcon 9 rocket will exceed the speed of sound in about a minute, shutting down its nine main engines two and a half minutes after liftoff. The booster stage will launch from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fire pulses from cold gas thrusters and extended titanium grid wings to help propel the vehicle back into the atmosphere.

Two brake burns will slow the rocket’s descent to the unmanned craft, A Shortfall of Gravitas, about nine minutes after liftoff.

Falcon 9’s reusable payload bay will be ejected during the second stage burn. There is also a recovery ship in the Atlantic to retrieve the two halves of the nose cone that bounced under the parachutes.

Saturday’s landing of the mission’s first stage will take place minutes after the Falcon 9’s second stage engine cuts off to deliver the Starlink satellites into orbit. The 54 Starlink spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, are expected to separate from the Falcon 9 rocket about 15 minutes after liftoff.

The Falcon 9’s guidance computer aims to place the satellites in an elliptical orbit at an altitude of between 131 miles and 210 miles (212×338 kilometers), at an inclination of 43 degrees to the equator. After liftoff, the 54 Starlink spacecraft will deploy their solar arrays and go through automated activation phases, then use ion thrusters to maneuver into an operational orbit.

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1062.11)

DOWNLOADING: 54 Starlink satellites (Starlink 5-1)

END THE WEBSITE: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

START DATE: December 28, 2022

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

WEATHER FORECAST: More than 90% chance of fair weather; Low risk of upper level winds; Average risk of adverse conditions for booster recovery

ENHANCED RECOVERY: “Lack of Gravitas” drone in northeastern Bahamas

START AZIMUTH: southeast

TARGET ORBIT: 131 mi x 210 mi (212 km x 338 km), 43.0 degree inclination


  • T+00:00: Raise
  • T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:29: First stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
  • T+02:32: Phase separation
  • T+02:39: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+02:44: Fairing jump
  • T+06:44: First stage inlet ignition (three engines)
  • T+07:00: First stage inlet burnout
  • T+08:26: First stage landing ignition (one engine)
  • T+08:38: Second stage engine cut (SECTION 1)
  • T+08:47: First stage landing
  • T+18:43: Detachment of Starlink satellite

MISSION Statistics:

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

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