SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday with 54 more Starlink internet satellites, a mission to begin populating a new orbital shell cleared by federal regulators earlier this month for the company’s Starlink Gen2 network.
Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket from Pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on SpaceX’s Starlink 5-1 mission is scheduled for Wednesday at 4:34 a.m. EST (0934 GMT). The mission will be SpaceX’s 60th launch of the year, with one more Falcon 9 flight scheduled to take off this week from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, using an Israeli Earth-imaging satellite.
There is a greater than 90% chance of favorable launch weather Wednesday, according to the US Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral.
The 54 satellites to be launched on Wednesday will be the first spacecraft deployed in a new segment of the Starlink constellation. The Falcon 9 rocket will aim to launch all 54 satellites at an orbital altitude and inclination reserved for use by SpaceX’s second-generation Starlink network, which the company ultimately intends to launch on the new Starship megarocket.
SpaceX is developing a much larger and more powerful Starlink satellite platform capable of transmitting signals directly to cell phones. But with Starship’s first orbital test flight still on hold, SpaceX officials have signaled that they will begin launching the Gen2 satellites on Falcon 9 rockets. Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and CEO, suggested in August that the company could develop a Miniature version of the Gen2 satellites to fit on the Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX has revealed little information about the Starlink 5-1 mission that will lift off on Wednesday. It’s unclear if SpaceX will use the satellites to test new hardware or software to be used in the Gen2 network.
But the circumstances of the flight suggest that the Starlink satellites aboard the Falcon 9 rocket are similar in size to SpaceX’s existing Starlink spacecraft, and not to the larger Gen2 satellites intended to fly on the huge new Starship rocket, or even to the Gen2 Musk mini satellites. mentioned earlier this year. There are 54 satellites on the Falcon 9 launcher that will fly on Wednesday, the same number that SpaceX has launched on many recent Starlink missions.
The Federal Communications Commission granted approval to SpaceX on December 2. 1 to launch up to 7,500 of its Starlink Gen2 constellation of 29,988 planned spacecraft. The regulatory agency has deferred a decision on the remaining satellites that SpaceX has proposed for Gen2.
“This launch marks the first of Starlink’s enhanced network,” SpaceX said on its website. “Under our new license, we can now deploy satellites into new orbits which will add even more capacity to the network. Ultimately, this allows us to add more customers and provide faster service, particularly in areas that are currently oversubscribed.” .
The FCC previously cleared SpaceX to launch and operate up to 12,000 Starlink satellites, including approximately 4,400 first-generation Ku-band and Ka-band Starlink spacecraft that SpaceX has been launching since 2019. SpaceX has also received regulatory approval to launch more than 7,500 Starlink satellites operating on a different V-band frequency.
SpaceX told the FCC earlier this year that it planned to consolidate the V-band Starlink fleet into the larger Gen2 constellation.
Gen2 satellites could improve Starlink’s coverage in lower latitude regions and help ease pressure on the network due to increasing consumer acceptance. SpaceX said earlier this month that the network now has more than 1 million active subscribers. The Starlink spacecraft transmits broadband Internet signals to consumers around the world, connectivity that is now available on all seven continents with ongoing testing at a research station in Antarctica.
“Our action will allow SpaceX to begin deployment of Gen2 Starlink, which will bring next-generation satellite broadband to Americans across the country, including those who live and work in areas traditionally underserved or underserved by terrestrial systems,” the statement wrote. FCC in its December 1 statement. 1 order partially approving the Starlink Gen2 constellation. “Our action 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 conditions will protect other satellite and terrestrial operators from harmful interference and maintain a safe space environment, promote competition, and protect spectrum and orbital resources for future use,” the FCC wrote. “We defer action on the remainder of SpaceX’s application at this time.”
Specifically, the FCC granted SpaceX the authority to launch the initial block 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 and Ka-band frequencies. . . The FCC has deferred a decision on SpaceX’s request to operate Starlink Gen2 satellites in higher and lower orbits.
The Starlink 5-1 mission to fly on Wednesday will aim at the 530-kilometer-high (329 miles) orbit with an inclination of 43 degrees from the equator.
Ahead of Wednesday’s mission, SpaceX has launched 3,612 Starlink satellites on more than 60 Falcon 9 rocket missions, including failed prototypes and spacecraft. The company currently has more than 3,200 Starlink satellites in operation in space, with around 3,000 operational and nearly 200 moving in their operational orbits. according to a tabulation by Jonathan McDowellan expert tracker of spaceflight activity and an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
The first-generation Starlink network architecture includes satellites that fly a few hundred miles high, 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 in Shell 4, with a 53.2-degree inclination, after the company largely completed launches in the first 53-degree inclination shell last year.
Shell 5 of the Starlink network was widely believed to be one of the constellation’s polar orbiting layers, with an inclination of 97.6 degrees. But the name of Wednesday’s mission, Starlink 5-1, could suggest that SpaceX has changed the naming scheme for Starlink projectiles.
The SpaceX launch team will be stationed inside a launch control center just south of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for Wednesday’s pre-dawn countdown. The SpaceX team will begin loading super-cooled liquid oxygen and densified kerosene propellants onto the Falcon 9 vehicle in T-minus 35 minutes.
Pressurized helium will also flow into the rocket in the last half hour of the countdown. In the last seven minutes before takeoff, the Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines will be thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as “relaxing.” The Falcon 9’s range and guidance safety systems will also be configured for launch.
After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket will direct its 1.7 million pounds of thrust, produced by nine Merlin engines, to head southeast over the Atlantic Ocean. The launch marks the resumption of Starlink missions from Cape Canaveral using the southeast launch corridor, as SpaceX did last winter to take advantage of better sea conditions for the landing of the Falcon 9 first stage booster.
Throughout the summer and fall, SpaceX launched Starlink missions on paths northeast from Florida’s Space Coast.
The Falcon 9 rocket will exceed the speed of sound in about a minute and then shut down its nine main engines two and a half minutes after liftoff. The booster stage will detach from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fire pulses from the cold gas control thrusters and extended titanium grid fins to help steer the vehicle back into the atmosphere.
Two braking starts will slow the rocket down to land on the “A Shortfall of Gravitas” drone around 410 miles (660 kilometers) approximately nine minutes after liftoff.
The Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing will be discarded during the second stage burn. A recovery ship is also on station in the Atlantic to recover the two nose cone halves after they parachute down.
The first-stage landing on Saturday’s mission will occur moments after the Falcon 9’s second-stage engine shuts down to launch the Starlink satellites into orbit. The Starlink 54 spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, is expected to separate from the Falcon 9 rocket around 15 minutes after liftoff.
The Falcon 9 guidance computer aims to deploy the satellites in an elliptical orbit inclined 43 degrees to the equator, with an altitude ranging from 131 miles to 210 miles (212 by 338 kilometers). After separating from the rocket, the 54 Starlink spacecraft will deploy solar arrays and execute automated activation steps, then use ion engines to maneuver into its operational orbit.
ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1062.11)
USEFUL LOAD: 54 Starlink satellites (Starlink 5-1)
LAUNCH SITE: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida
RELEASE DATE: Dec 28, 2022
LUNCH TIME: 4:34:00 a.m. EST (0934:00 GMT)
WEATHER FORECAST: Greater than 90% chance of acceptable weather; Low risk of high winds; Moderate risk of unfavorable conditions for reinforcement recovery
BOOSTER RECOVERY: Drone boat “A Shortfall of Gravitas” in the northeast of the Bahamas
LAUNCH AZIMUTH: southeast
TARGET ORBIT: 131 miles by 210 miles (212 kilometers by 338 kilometers), 43.0 degrees of incline
- T+00:00: Takeoff
- T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
- T+02:29: First stage main engine shutdown (MECO)
- T+02:32: Separation of stages
- T+02:39: Second stage engine ignition
- T+02:44: Fairing removal
- T+06:44: Ignition by first stage input burnout (three engines)
- T+07:00: First stage input burn cut
- T+08:26: First stage landing burnout ignition (one engine)
- T+08:38: Second stage engine shutdown (SECO 1)
- T+08:47: First stage landing
- T+18:43: Separation of Starlink satellites
- 193rd launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
- 202nd launch of the Falcon family of rockets since 2006
- 11th launch of the Falcon 9 B1062 booster
- Falcon 9 launch number 165 from Florida’s Space Coast
- Launch of the 107th Falcon 9 from platform 40
- 162nd launch overall from pad 40
- Flight 132 of a repurposed Falcon 9 booster
- Falcon 9 67th launch dedicated primarily to the Starlink network
- Falcon 9 59th launch of 2022
- SpaceX 60th launch in 2022
- 57th orbital launch attempt based at Cape Canaveral in 2022
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