SpaceX launches first mission for Starlink Gen2 constellation: Spaceflight Now

SpaceX launches first mission for Starlink Gen2 constellation: Spaceflight Now

EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch a replay of our live coverage of the Falcon 9 launch on Starlink mission 5-1.

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday carrying 54 more Starlink Internet satellites, a mission to begin populating a new orbital layer cleared by federal regulators earlier this month for the Starlink Gen2 network of the company

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket from Pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on SpaceX’s Starlink 5-1 mission occurred Wednesday at 4:34 a.m. EST (0934 GMT), about six minutes earlier than previously announced. The mission was SpaceX’s 60th launch of the year, with one more Falcon 9 flight set to lift off later this week from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., carrying an Israeli satellite from image of the Earth.

The 54 satellites launched Wednesday were the first spacecraft deployed in a new segment of the Starlink constellation. The Falcon 9 rocket launched the 54 satellites to an orbital altitude and inclination reserved for use by SpaceX’s second-generation Starlink network, which the company eventually 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 indicated they will begin launching Gen2 satellites on Falcon 9 rockets. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk suggested in the August that the company could develop a miniature version of the Gen2 satellites to fit on the Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX released little information about the satellites that were launched Wednesday. It was unclear whether SpaceX will use the satellites to test new hardware or software that will 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 Starlink spacecraft, and not the larger Gen2 satellites intended to fly on the big new Starship rocket, or even the Gen2 Musk mini satellites. mentioned earlier this year. There were 54 satellites on the Falcon 9 launcher scheduled to fly Wednesday, the same number that SpaceX has launched on many recent Starlink missions.

A glimpse of the 54 Starlink satellites after separation from the Falcon 9 payload fairing showed the spacecraft looking similar to the Internet satellites that SpaceX has been launching since 2019.

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:34 a.m. EST (0934 GMT) on Wednesday with 54 other Starlink Internet satellites. Credit: SpaceX

The Federal Communications Commission granted SpaceX approval on Dec. 1 to launch up to 7,500 of its constellation of 29,988 Starlink Gen2 spacecraft. The regulatory agency postponed a decision on the remaining satellites that SpaceX proposed for Gen2.

“This launch is the first of the upgraded Starlink network,” SpaceX said on its website. “With our new license, we can now deploy satellites into new orbits that will add even 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 approximately 4,400 first-generation Ka-band and Ku-band Starlink spacecraft that SpaceX has been launching since 2019. SpaceX also received regulatory approval to launch more than 7,500 Starlink satellites. operates at 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.

The Gen2 satellites could improve Starlink’s coverage in lower latitude regions and help ease pressure on the network from growing consumer uptake. SpaceX said earlier this month that the network now has more than 1 million active subscribers. The Starlink spacecraft is beaming broadband internet signals to consumers around the world, connectivity now available on 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 systems terrestrial,” the FCC wrote in its Dec. 1 order in part. approving the Starlink Gen2 constellation. “Our action will also enable satellite broadband service around the world, helping to close the digital divide on a global scale.

“At the same time, this limited grant and associated conditions will protect other terrestrial and satellite operators from harmful interference and maintain a safe space environment, promoting competition and protecting spectrum and orbital resources for future use,” the FCC wrote. “We are deferring 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 frequencies and band Ka. . The FCC postponed a decision on SpaceX’s request to operate Starlink Gen2 satellites in higher and lower orbits.

The Starlink 5-1 mission on Wednesday aimed for the 530-kilometer-high (329-mile) orbit with an inclination of 43 degrees to the equator.

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

After Wednesday’s mission, SpaceX has launched 3,666 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 operating in space, with about 3,000 operational and nearly 200 moving in their operational orbits. according to a tabulation by Jonathan McDowellan expert in tracking spaceflight activity and an 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 in Shell 4, at a tilt of 53.2 degrees, after the company largely completed launches in the first 53-degree tilt shell in the year past

Shell 5 of the Starlink network was widely believed to be one of the polar orbiting layers of the constellation, 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 shells.

SpaceX’s launch team was stationed inside a launch control center south of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for Wednesday’s pre-dawn countdown. SpaceX began loading supercooled, densified liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants into the Falcon 9 vehicle at T-minus 35 minutes.

Helium pressure also leaked into the rocket in the last half hour of the countdown. In the final seven minutes before liftoff, the Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines were thermally conditioned for flight using a procedure known as “chilldown.” Falcon 9’s safety and guidance systems were also configured for launch.

After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket vectored its 1.7 million pounds of thrust, produced by nine Merlin engines, to head southeast over the Atlantic Ocean. The launch marked the resumption of Starlink missions from Cape Canaveral using the Southeast launch corridor, as SpaceX used last winter to take advantage of better sea conditions to land the Falcon’s first stage booster 9.

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

In this long exposure photo, a Falcon 9 rocket streaks southeast from Cape Canaveral. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

The Falcon 9 rocket surpassed the speed of sound in about a 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 the cold gas control thrusters and extended titanium grid fins to help steer the vehicle into the atmosphere.

Two brake burns slowed the rocket to land on the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” about 410 miles (660 kilometers) away about nine minutes after liftoff.

Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing was ejected during the second stage burn. A recovery ship was also on station in the Atlantic to recover the two halves of the nose cone after they were torn off under the parachutes.

The landing of the first stage of the mission on Wednesday came moments after the Falcon 9’s second stage engine shuts down to put the Starlink satellites into orbit. The separation of the Starlink 54 spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, from the Falcon 9 rocket occurred almost 19 minutes after liftoff. SpaceX had to wait until the rocket passed over a ground station in Guam to confirm the separation of Starlink from the upper stage.

Falcon 9’s guidance computer was intended to deploy the satellites into an elliptical orbit inclined 43 degrees to the equator, with an altitude ranging from 131 miles to 210 miles (212 for 338 kilometers). After separating from the rocket, the 54 Starlink spacecraft will deploy solar arrays and go through automated activation steps, then use ion engines to maneuver into its operational orbit.

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1062.11)

PAYLOAD: 54 Starlink satellites (Starlink 5-1)

LAUNCH PLACE: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

RELEASE DATE: December 28, 2022

LAUNCH TIME: 4:34:00 am EST (09:34:00 GMT)

WEATHER FORECAST: More than 90% chance of acceptable weather; Low risk of upper level winds; Moderate risk of unfavorable conditions for reinforcement recovery

BOOSTER RECOVERY: “A Shortfall of Gravitas” drone ship in the northeastern Bahamas


TARGET ORBIT: 131 miles by 210 miles (212 kilometers by 338 kilometers), 43.0 degree incline


  • T+00:00: take off
  • T+01:12: maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:29: first stage main engine cut (MECO)
  • T+02:32: Separation of scenarios
  • T+02:39: Ignition of the second stage engine
  • T+02:44: Expulsion of the fairing
  • T+06:44: First stage burn ignition (three engines)
  • T+07:00: cutting of burns in the first stage
  • T+08:26: First ignition landing stage (one engine)
  • T+08:38: Second stage engine cut (SECO 1)
  • T+08:47: Landing of the first stage
  • T+18:43: Separation of the Starlink satellite


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

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

#SpaceX #launches #mission #Starlink #Gen2 #constellation #Spaceflight

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