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SpaceX is about to begin launching the next series of Starlink satellites


A Starlink ground terminal. Credit: SpaceX

After spending July with no launches, SpaceX is expected to resume missions in August with Falcon 9 rocket flights from California and Florida to begin deploying Internet Starlink satellites in new orbits.

SpaceX is preparing for at least two Starlink launches next month, beginning with a Falcon 9 mission that will depart from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, no earlier than Aug. 10, multiple sources said. Another Falcon 9 launch is scheduled to put a batch of Starlink satellites into orbit in mid-August.

They will be SpaceX’s first launches as of June 30, an unusually long gap in the company’s busy launch schedule. SpaceX launched 20 Falcon 9 missions in the first half of the year, primarily for the company’s Starlink program.

The most recent Falcon 9 mission to carry a full load of Starlink satellites took place on May 26.

Since then, SpaceX has activated hundreds of Internet spacecraft delivered to orbit in previous Falcon 9 missions, increasing the number of operational Starlink spacecraft from approximately 950 satellites to more than 1,300, according to an analysis by Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Center. -Smithsonian of Astrophysics and respected spaceflight activity tracker

More than 200 Starlink satellites are moving to their operational positions in orbit 550 kilometers (341 miles) above Earth at an inclination of 53 degrees from the equator.

SpaceX has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to launch and operate up to 12,000 Internet streaming satellites. The early stages of SpaceX’s Starlink network involve the launch of 4,408 satellites in five layers or orbital layers in low Earth orbit.

SpaceX has so far launched 1,740 Starlink satellites, including retired prototypes, more than all other commercial satellite fleets combined. Most of the satellites have been launched into a 53-degree inclined orbit, the first of five orbital “layers” that the company plans to complete the full deployment of the Starlink network.

With that shell poised to have more than 1,500 active satellites, SpaceX is moving into a new phase of the Starlink program.

Completing the first Starlink shell will allow the network to provide high-speed, low-latency Internet services in lower latitudes, such as the southern United States. The partial deployment of satellites in the first orbital layer initially provided services in the northern regions of the United States, Canada and Europe, as well as in higher latitude regions in the southern hemisphere.

Founded and run by billionaire Elon Musk, SpaceX currently offers interim Internet services via Starlink satellites to consumers who have enrolled in a beta testing program in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, New Zealand, France, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands.

SpaceX’s other Starlink layers will include 1,584 satellites at 335 miles (540 kilometers) and a 53.2-degree tilt, 720 satellites at 354 miles (570 kilometers) and a 70-degree tilt and 520 satellites spread over two projectiles at 348 miles (560 kilometers). ). kilometers) and an incline of 97.6 degrees.

The Starlink mission scheduled to lift off from Vandenberg next month, dubbed “Starlink 2-1,” will begin to populate a new orbital shell.

A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Vandenberg Air Base on November 21, 2020 with the Michael Freilich Sentinel-6 oceanographic satellite. Credit: SpaceX

A SpaceX application with FCC associated with launch vehicle telemetry links for the Starlink launch from Vandenberg suggests that the company’s booster landing pad, or drone ship, will be placed in the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of Baja California. The drone’s position indicates that the launch will target a 70-degree tilt orbit.

A similar FCC application for the Starlink launch next month from Cape Canaveral shows that a SpaceX drone ship will be parked in the Atlantic Ocean in line with the rocket’s trajectory at a step of 53.2 degrees.

More Starlink missions will follow the mid-August releases. SpaceX is expected to launch an average of one Starlink mission per month from Vandenberg over the next year, and there will also be a regular schedule of Starlink flights from Cape Canaveral.

SpaceX did not disclose what design changes, if any, it plans to introduce to the next series of Starlink satellites, which the company will build on an assembly line at a development facility in Redmond, Washington. A fully loaded Falcon 9 rocket could carry 60 first-generation Starlink satellites into orbit on each mission, but it’s unclear if that number will change on future flights.

In January, Musk said SpaceX would introduce inter-satellite laser links to all Starlink spacecraft beginning in 2022. Starlink satellites heading into polar orbit would get the update this year, he tweeted.

SpaceX launched 10 Starlink satellites into a 97.6-degree polar orbit on a shared-ride mission in January. Three more Starlink payloads were launched into a similar orbit last month on a subsequent shared-ride flight.

Those satellites were equipped with inter-satellite laser links, which allow spacecraft to pass data and Internet traffic to each other without routing it through a ground station. The update will allow SpaceX to provide Internet connectivity near the poles and in other regions without ground stations.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ EstebanClark1.

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