Editor’s note: Watch our live replay of the Falcon 9 launch on Starlink 5-1 mission.
SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Wednesday with 54 Starlink internet satellites, a mission to begin filling a new orbital shell authorized by federal regulators earlier this month for the company’s Starlink Gen2 network.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on SpaceX’s Starlink 5-1 mission at 4:34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT) Wednesday, about six minutes earlier than previously announced. The mission was SpaceX’s 60th launch of the year, with another Falcon 9 flight scheduled to lift off later this week from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, using an Israeli Earth-imaging satellite.
The 54 satellites launched Wednesday were the first spacecraft to be deployed in a new part of the Starlink constellation. The Falcon 9 rocket launched 54 satellites at an orbital altitude and inclination intended for use by SpaceX’s second-generation Starlink network, which the company intends to eventually launch on the new Starship mega-rocket.
SpaceX is developing a much larger and higher-powered satellite platform than Starlink capable of transmitting signals directly to cell phones. But with the Starship’s first orbital test flight still on hold, SpaceX officials have indicated that they will begin launching Gen2 satellites on Falcon 9 rockets. Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, suggested in August that the company could develop a scaled-down version of Gen2 satellites to fit Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX revealed little information about the satellites launched on Wednesday. It wasn’t clear if SpaceX would use the satellites to test new hardware or software for use on the Gen2 network.
But the flight conditions indicate that the Starlink satellites aboard the Falcon 9 rocket are similar in size to SpaceX’s current Starlink spacecraft, not the larger second-generation satellites destined to fly on the massive new Starship rocket, or even the miniature second-generation Musk satellites. . mentioned earlier this year. There were 54 satellites on the Falcon 9 launch pad scheduled for launch Wednesday, the same number SpaceX has launched on several recent Starlink missions.
A rendering of 54 Starlink satellites after the Falcon 9 payload display separation showed that the spacecraft was similar in appearance to Internet satellites launched by SpaceX since 2019.
The FCC granted SpaceX approval on December 1 to launch up to 7,500 of the planned 29,988 Starlink Gen2 constellation of spacecraft. The regulatory agency has delayed a decision on the remaining proposed second-generation SpaceX satellites.
“This launch marks the first Starlink upgraded network,” SpaceX said on its website. “Under our new license, we are now able to deploy satellites in new orbits that will add more capacity to the network. Ultimately, this enables us to add more customers and provide faster service – particularly 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. It also SpaceX has received regulatory approval to launch more than 7,500 Starlink satellites. It operates at a different V-band frequency.
SpaceX told the FCC earlier this year that it plans to integrate its Starlink V-band fleet into its larger Gen2 constellation.
Gen2 satellites can improve Starlink’s coverage in low latitudes, and help relieve pressure on the network from increased consumer uptake. SpaceX said earlier this month that the network now has more than 1 million active subscribers. The Starlink spacecraft is sending broadband internet signals to consumers around the world, and communication is now available on all seven continents with testing underway at a research station in Antarctica.
1 in part: “Our work will allow SpaceX to begin deployment of Gen2 Starlink, which will bring the next generation of satellite broadband to Americans across the country, including those who live and work in Areas not reached by terrestrial systems or not normally reached by terrestrial systems. Starlink Gen2 constellation approval. Our work will also enable satellite broadband service around the world, helping to bridge the digital divide on a global scale.
“At the same time, this limited grant and associated terms will protect other satellite and ground operators from harmful interference, maintain a safe space environment, promote competition and protect orbital spectrum and resources for future use,” the FCC wrote. “We are delaying taking action on the remainder of the SpaceX application at this time.”
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. . The FCC has delayed a decision on SpaceX’s request to operate Starlink Gen2 satellites in higher and lower orbits.
The Starlink 5-1 mission on Wednesday targeted the orbit, which is 530 kilometers (329 miles) high at an inclination of 43 degrees to the equator.
After Wednesday’s mission, SpaceX launched 3666 Starlink satellites on more than 60 Falcon 9 rocket missions, including failed prototypes and spacecraft. The company currently has more than 3,200 operating Starlink satellites in space, with about 3,000 operating and nearly 200 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.
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. Most of SpaceX’s recent Starlink launches have 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 last year.
Starlink’s Shell 5 is widely believed to be one of the layers of the constellation’s polar orbits, at an inclination of 97.6 degrees. But the name of Wednesday’s mission — Starlink 5-1 — may indicate that SpaceX has changed the naming scheme for Starlink shells.
The SpaceX launch team has positioned itself inside Launch Control Center south of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in preparation for the predawn countdown Wednesday. 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 launch marks the resumption of Starlink missions from Cape Canaveral using the Southeast launch corridor, which SpaceX used last winter to take advantage of better sea conditions for the Falcon 9 first-stage boost landing.
Over the summer and fall, SpaceX launched Starlink missions on trajectories northeast of Florida’s Space Coast.
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 410 miles (660 kilometers) about nine minutes after liftoff.
The Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing was discarded during the second stage burn. The rescue ship was also on station in the Atlantic Ocean to recover the nose cone halves after they had fallen under parachutes.
The landing of the first stage in Wednesday’s mission occurred moments after the Falcon 9’s second stage engine to deliver the Starlink satellites into orbit stalled. The separation of the 54 Starlink spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, from the Falcon 9 rocket occurred about 19 minutes after liftoff. SpaceX had to wait for the rocket to pass over a ground station in Guam to confirm Starlink’s separation from the upper stage.
The Falcon 9’s guidance computer aims to deploy the satellites into an elliptical orbit at an inclination of 43 degrees to the equator, with an altitude of between 131 miles and 210 miles (212 by 338 kilometers). After separating from the rocket, the 54th Starlink spacecraft will launch the solar arrays, run them through the automated activation steps, and then use the ion thrusters to maneuver them into their operational orbit.
Rocket: Falcon 9 (B1062.11)
Payload: 54 Starlink satellites (Starlink 5-1)
Launch site: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Station, Florida
Lunch date: December 28, 2022
launch time: 4:34:00 AM EST (0934:00 GMT)
weather forecast: greater than 90% chance of acceptable weather; low risk of upper level winds; Moderate risk of unfavorable conditions for an enhanced recovery
Recovery from boost: Drone vessel named “A Shortfall of Gravitas” northeast of the Bahamas
AZIMUTH LAUNCH: southeast
target orbit: 131 miles by 210 miles (212 kilometers by 338 kilometers), 43.0 degrees
- T+00:00: take off
- T+01:12: Max Air Pressure (Max-Q)
- T+02:29: First Engine Main Cut Off (MECO) Stage
- T+02:32: Separation phase
- T+02:39: Second stage engine ignition
- T+02:44: Quiet out
- T+06:44: first stage entry burner ignition (three engines)
- T+07:00: First stage entry afterburner cut off
- T+08:26: First stage combustion ignition (single engine)
- T+08:38: Second stage engine cut off (SECO 1)
- T+08:47: First stage landing
- T+18:43: Starlink satellite disconnected
- The 193rd Falcon 9 launch since 2010
- The 202nd launch of the Falcon family since 2006
- Eleventh launch of Falcon 9 B1062 booster
- The 165th Falcon 9 launch from the Florida Space Coast
- Launch of the 107 Falcon 9 from Platform 40
- 162nd launch overall from the 40 board
- Flight 132 of the repurposed Falcon 9 booster
- The launch of 67 Falcon 9s is intended primarily for the Starlink network
- The launch of the fifty-ninth cycle of the Falcon 9 in 2022
- SpaceX launch 60 in 2022
- The 57th Orbital Launch Attempt, launching from Cape Canaveral in 2022
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