Monday January 17th at 7:27 PM Est from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center
It’s not just the snowbirds heading south this year, SpaceX has now launched three rockets from Cape Canaveral this year, all of them on a Southern trajectory. This marks the second Starlink mission of the year, meaning SpaceX has now put ninety-nine of their internet satellites into orbit. Combined with the one-hundred and five satellites that launched on the Transporter-3 mission last week that’s two-hundred and four total satellites in the first three weeks of the new year. If you think that’s impressive, well they aren’t done yet. SpaceX still has two more missions planned for this month, the CSG-2 mission which will launch an Earth observation satellite for the Italian Space Agency, and another Starlink mission where forty-nine more satellites will reach orbit. SpaceX is really showing off at this point as well, the booster for this launch is B1060, which has flown nine times previous, marking back-to-back tenth flight launches for Falcon 9 rockets. Seven on its ten missions have been for Starlink, but its first, back in June of 2020 it flew the GPS III SV03 mission launching a new generation satellite built by Lockheed Martin to provide precision GPS positioning and navigation information.
Starlink is of course SpaceX’s internet communications satellite constellation. This low Earth orbit constellation delivers high speed, low latency internet service across the globe, and is especially useful in areas where ground-based internet systems are unreliable, unavailable, or just expensive. Currently the system is in their “Better Than Nothing Beta” phase which allows anyone in approved regions to order, or preorder internet service. SpaceX did achieve near global coverage after their twenty-eighth mission but will not be fully capable until it reaches a total of forty-two-thousand satellites in orbit. Once the Starlink constellation is fully completed the company is expected to profit between thirty and fifty billion dollars annually. This profit will mostly finance SpaceX’s Starship program along with their Mars Base Alpha. We know that Starlink missions were planned to be moved over fully to launching on Starship by this time already as that rocket is larger and capable of launching up to four hundred Starlinks in a single launch, but issues with funding and the company’s Raptor engines have delayed the program as of now.
A Starlink satellite weighs about 260 kg and features a compact, flat panel design that reduces total volume which allows for more satellites to be stacked inside the Falcon 9’s fairings to take advantage of the max launch capabilities of the rocket. Once deployed they have four powerful phased array and two parabolic antennas each will extend out to continuously power the crafts. When the satellite ends its life cycle, they are capable of utilizing their on-board propulsion systems to deorbit themselves over the course of a few months and will then be burnt up as they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. They are also designed to eventually re-enter the atmosphere if the propulsion unit fails, thus ensuring less “space junk” is left floating around in orbit.