EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch premium live coverage of the Falcon 9 launch on the Starlink 5-1 mission.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Wednesday with 54 more Starlink satellites, a mission to populate a new orbital shell authorized 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 Station on SpaceX’s Starlink 5-1 mission took place at 4:34 am EST (0934 GMT) Wednesday, about six minutes earlier than previously reported. SpaceX’s 60th mission has been completed, with one more Falcon 9 flight set to blast off later this week from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, with Israel’s Earth-imaging satellite.
Mercury’s 54 satellites were the first to deploy into the new portion of the Starlink constellation. The Falcon 9 rocket launched 54 satellites into high-orbit orbit and deposited them at an inclination for use in the second-generation Starlink network by SpaceX, which the company intends to eventually launch on the new mega-rocket Starship.
SpaceX is developing a much larger, higher power Starlink platform capable of delivering satellite signals directly to mobile phones. But while Starship’s first orbital test flight is still on hold, SpaceX officials have indicated they will begin launching Gen2 satellites on Falcon 9 rockets. Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and CEO, suggested in August that the company could develop a small version of the Gen2 satellite to fit on the Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX revealed little information about the satellites launched on Wednesday. It was unclear whether SpaceX would use the satellites to test new hardware or software for use in the Gen2 network.
But the circumstances of the flight suggest that the Starlink satellites on board the Falcon 9 rocket will be similar in size to SpaceX’s existing Starlink spacecraft mentioned earlier this year. There were 54 satellites aboard the Falcon 9 launcher for Wednesday’s flight, the same number SpaceX has launched on many recent Starlink missions.
A view of the 54 Starlink satellites after the separation of the Falcon 9 payload fairing shows a similar appearance to the SpaceX internet satellites launched in 2019.
The Federal Communications Commission granted SpaceX approval on December 1 to send up to 7,500 of its planned 29,988 Starlink Gen2 spacecraft. The agency’s management has postponed the rest of SpaceX’s satellites for Gen2.
“This launch marks the first of the upgraded Starlink network,” SpaceX said on its website. “With our new license, we are now able to deploy satellites to new orbits that will add even more capacity to the network.” Ultimately, this enables us to add more customers and provide faster service – especially in areas that are now oversubscribed”.
The FCC previously authorized SpaceX to launch and operate up to 12,000 Starlink satellites, including about 4,400 of the first-generation Ka-band and Ku-band Starlink satellites that SpaceX will launch by 2019. SpaceX has received regulatory approval to launch more than 7,500 Starlink satellites. operating on a different frequency of the 5th band.
SpaceX told the FCC earlier this year that it planned to consolidate the Starlink fleet into a larger Gen2 constellation.
Gen2 Starlink satellites could improve coverage over lower latitude regions, and relieve pressure on network resources. SpaceX said earlier this month that the network now has more than 1 million active subscribers. The Starlink space radio broadcasts the Internet to consumers around the world, connectivity that is now available on all seven continents with tests conducted at a research station in Antarctica.
“Our action will allow SpaceX to begin deploying Gen2 Starlink, which will carry satellites to future generations of Americans, including those living and working in areas traditionally protected or protected by terrestrial systems,” the FCC wrote in its Dec. 1 order. testing Starlink Gen2. “Our action will also create a round-the-clock satellite broadcasting service, helping to close the digital divide on a global scale.”
“Together, this limited concession and associated conditions will protect other operators and terrestrial satellites from harmful interference and ensure a safe space environment, spectrum and resources for future use to promote competition and protection,” wrote the FCC. “We do not want to take action on the rest of SpaceX’s application at this time.”
Specifically, the FCC granted SpaceX the authority to launch satellites into orbits in orbits 525, 530, and 535, with Ku-band and Ka-band frequencies. The FCC has postponed a decision on SpaceX’s request to operate Gen2 Starlink satellites in upper and lower orbits.
Mercury’s Starlink 5-1 mission shot into a 530-kilometer-high (329-mile) orbit at a near-inclination of 43 degrees to the equator.
After Wednesday’s launch, SpaceX launched more than 60 Falcon 9 rocket missions on Starlink satellites, including failed prototypes and space shuttles. The company currently has more than 3,200 operating satellites in the Starlink space, with about 3,000 operational and nearly 200 moving into operational orbits, according to Jonathan McDowell, an expert space flight activity researcher and astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center. Astrophysics
The first generation Starlink network architecture includes satellites flying a few hundred miles up, at inclinations of 97.6 degrees, 70 degrees, 53.2 degrees, and 53.0 degrees to the equator. Most of SpaceX’s latest Starlink satellites were launched on Shell 4, at an inclination of 53.2 degrees, after the company’s first 53-degree inclination shell launch last year was largely completed.
Shell 5 of the Starlink network is widely believed to be one of the polar-orbiting layers of the constellation, at an inclination of 97.6 degrees. But the name of Mercury’s mission — Starlink 5-1 — might suggest that SpaceX has changed the naming scheme for Starlink shells.
SpaceX’s launch team was located inside the launch center just south of the Cape Canaveral Space Station ahead of Wednesday’s countdown. SpaceX began loading super-cooled, condensed kerosene and liquid oxygen propellant into the Falcon 9 vehicle at T-minus 35 minutes.
Helium pressure was also flowing into the rocket in the last half hour. In the last seven minutes before liftoffs, the Falcon IX’s Merlin main flight engines were thermally conditioned through a process known as “cooling”. The Falcon 9’s guidance and security systems were also configured for launch.
After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket will steer its 1.7 million pound payload — powered by nine Merlin cannons — south across the Atlantic Ocean. Launches from Starlink have marked the resumption of Cape Canaveral missions using the southern runway, as SpaceX used last winter to take advantage of better sea conditions to dock the Falcon 9 on the first stage of the run.
Over the summer and fall, SpaceX launched Starlink missions heading east-northeast from Florida’s coastal area.
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 launch stage separated from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fired a thruster from the cold gas control system and extended the titanium fins to help steer the vehicle back into the atmosphere.
Two braking burns slowed the rocket to port on the drone ship “A shortfall Gravity” about 410 miles (660 kilometers) downrange about nine minutes after liftoff.
Falcon 9 reusable payload faire launching in the second burning stage. A recovery ship was also on station in the Atlantic to recover the two halves of the nose cone after they were scattered under parachutes.
The exit of the first stage on Wednesday’s mission took place moments after the Falcon 9’s second engine cut off to deliver the Starlink satellites into orbit. The separation of the 54 Starlink spacecraft, made by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, from the Falcon 9 rocket, took place approximately 19 minutes after liftoff. SpaceX had to wait until the rocket passed the base station in Guam to confirm the separation of Starlink from the upper stage.
The computer-controlled Falcon 9 was intended to deploy satellites in an elliptical orbit inclined 43 degrees to the equator, with an altitude between 131 miles and 210 miles (212-by-338 kilometers). After separating from the rocket, the 54 Starlink spacecraft will deploy its solar clothing and run through automated activation steps, using sound cannons to maneuver into operational orbit.
ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1062.11)
PAYLOAD: 54 Starlink Satellites (Starlink 5-1)
Send Site: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Station, Florida
SEND DATE: Dec. 28
SEND TIME: 4:34:00 am EST (0934:00 GMT)
STORMS ARE FORECASTED: Greater than 90% chance of acceptable weather; There is a low risk of higher winds; Controlling the risk of unfair conditions in the course of recovery
RECOVERY BOOSTER: “Short gravity” drone ship to the north and east of the Bahamas
SEND AZIMUTH: Southeast
PARMA ORBITS: 131 kilometers by 210 miles (212 kilometers 338 kilometers), 43.0 degrees of inclination
- T+00:00: Liftoff
- T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
- T+02:29: First stage main engine interval (MECO)
- T+02:32: Time of separation
- T+02:39: Second stage engine ignition
- T+02:44: Fairing jettison
- T+06:44: Fire the first stage entry fire (three guns)
- T+07:00: First stage entry to burn interval
- T + 08:26: First stage port fire burning (one engine)
- T+08:38: Second stage engine interval (SECO 1)
- T + 08:47: First port scene
- T+18:43: Starlink satellite separation
- 193rd launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
- 202nd launch of the Falcon rocket family since 2006
- 11th launch of Falcon 9 course B1062
- 165th Falcon 9 launch on Florida’s Space Coast
- 107th Falcon 9 launch from pad 40
- 162nd launch overall from pad 40
- 132nd flight from the stage guilty 9 course
- 67th Falcon 9 launch especially for the Starlink network
- 59th Falcon 9 launch of 2022
- 60th launch by SpaceX in 2022
- 57th orbital launch attempt from Cape Canaveral in 2012
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