SpaceX resumes launches of improved Starlink satellites – Spaceflight Now

Watch a replay of our live coverage of the countdown and launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Starlink 6-2 mission at 10:31 AM EST (1431 GMT) on April 19 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Space Force Station Cape Canaveral, Florida. Follow us Twitter.

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SpaceX resumed launching its upgraded second-generation Starlink satellites Wednesday from Cape Canaveral, nearly two months after some spacecraft encountered the first batch of larger, more capable Starlink V2 Mini satellites shortly after liftoff.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 10:31:10 a.m. EDT (1431:10 UTC) from Platform 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with 21 upgraded second-generation Starlink satellites inside its nose cone. SpaceX skipped a launch opportunity earlier Wednesday morning due to concerns about cloud cover over the spaceport.

This mission, known as Starlink 6-2, continued with SpaceX’s new Starlink V2 Mini satellite platform equipped with phased array antennas improved with four times the communications power of previous generations of Starlink satellites, known as v1.5, to send internet signals to consumers around. the world. Despite its name, the Starlink V2 Mini satellites are four times bulkier and larger than the older Starlink V1.5 satellites.

The “Mini” moniker refers to SpaceX’s plans to launch a larger, full-size Starlink V2 satellite design on the company’s massive new Starship rocket. Starship has nearly 10 times the payload capacity of a Falcon 9 rocket, with a larger satellite size as well.

The full-size Starlink V2s will be able to send signals directly to mobile phones. But as preparations for the Starship rocket’s first test flight into space continue, SpaceX has begun launching second-generation satellites on Falcon 9 rockets and has developed V2 Minis to fit the company’s existing launch vehicles.

The first group of 21 Starlink V2 Mini satellites launched Feb. 27 on a Falcon 9 rocket, but most of those spacecraft have yet to begin maneuvering into SpaceX’s fleet of operations. Like all Starlink launches, the Falcon 9 rocket with the first batch of Starlink V2 Mini spacecraft launched the payloads into orbit below final operating altitude. The satellites were then supposed to use onboard thrusters to raise their orbits to an altitude of more than 300 miles (500 km).

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, tweeted that the first batch of Starlink V2 Mini satellites were “having some issues, as expected.” SpaceX planned to thoroughly test the satellites before boosting them above the International Space Station’s altitude to its final operational orbit. Musk said that some of the Starlink V2 Mini-upgraded satellites at launch on February 27 could be deorbited without entering service at all.

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As of Wednesday, two of the first 21 Starlink V2 Mini satellites have ejected to re-enter the atmosphere and burn up, according to a scheduler by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist and expert in spaceflight activity tracking. Three of the Starlink V2 Mini satellites appear to be heading toward operational altitude, and another 16 remain in low orbit, presumably still undergoing tests and checks.

While SpaceX worked out issues with its first batch of Starlink V2 Mini satellites, the company went back to launching more older-design Starlink V1.5 satellite constellations on Falcon 9 rockets in March.

SpaceX has now resumed launching Starlink V2 Minis.

Side-by-side comparison of Starlink V1.5 and Starlink V2 Mini satellites. Credit: SpaceX / Spaceflight Now

In addition to improved communications capability, the Starlink V2 Mini satellites have more efficient, higher-powered argon-fueled thrusters. Argon is cheaper than the Kryptonian gas used to power the ion thrusters of the older generation Starlink V1.5 satellites.

“This means Starlink can deliver more bandwidth while increasing reliability and connecting millions of people around the world to high-speed internet,” SpaceX said ahead of the first launch of the Starlink V2 Mini satellites in February.

Each Starlink V2 Mini satellite weighs approximately 1,760 lb (800 kg) at launch, nearly three times heavier than older Starlink satellites. It’s also larger, with a spacecraft fuselage more than 13 feet (4.1 meters) wide, and filling more payload for a Falcon 9 rocket during launch, according to regulatory filings with the Federal Communications Commission.

The larger, heavier satellite platform means the Falcon 9 rocket can only launch about 21 Starlink V2 Mini payloads at a time, compared to more than 50 Starlink V1.5s in a single Falcon 9 launch.

The deployable solar panels on each Starlink V2 Mini satellite span 100 feet (30 meters) end-to-end. Each of the previous generation Starlink V1.5 satellites has a single solar array wing, with each spacecraft measuring approximately 36 feet (11 meters) end-to-end once the solar panel is extended.

The improvements give the Starlink V2 Mini satellites a total surface area of ​​1,248 square feet, or 116 square meters, more than four times the area of ​​a Starlink V1.5 satellite.

Federal Communications granted approval for SpaceX on December 1 to launch up to 7,500 of the planned 29,988 Starlink Gen2 constellations, which will be deployed in slightly different orbits than the original Starlink fleet. The regulatory agency has delayed a decision on the remaining proposed second-generation SpaceX satellites.

Specifically, the FCC has authorized SpaceX to launch the initial mass 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-frequencies. band and Ka-band. .

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The FCC previously authorized SpaceX to launch and operate approximately 4,400 first-generation Ka-band and Ku-band Starlink spacecraft launched by SpaceX since 2019.

With Wednesday’s launch, SpaceX has sent 372 Starlink Gen2 satellites into orbit, and has deployed 4,238 Starlinks satellites in total, including test modules that are no longer in service. There are currently more than 3,900 Starlink satellites in orbit. According to McDowell.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral at 10:31 a.m. EDT (1431 UTC) on Wednesday. Credit: Spaceflight Now

Gen2 satellites can improve Starlink’s coverage in low latitudes, and help relieve pressure on the network from increased consumer uptake. SpaceX says the network has more than 1 million active subscribers, most of whom are homes in areas where traditional fiber connectivity is unavailable, unreliable, or expensive.

During Wednesday’s countdown, the SpaceX launch team was stationed inside the Launch Control Center south of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station monitoring key systems on the Falcon 9 rocket and at the launch pad. After a liftoff delay pending better weather, SpaceX began loading super-cold kerosene condensate and liquid oxygen thruster into the Falcon 9 vehicle in T-minus 35 minutes.

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

After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket channeled 1.7 million pounds of thrust—produced by nine Merlin engines—to steer southeast into the Atlantic Ocean. 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 booster stage separated from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fired pulses from cold gas control thrusters and extended titanium grille fins to help guide the vehicle back into the atmosphere.

Two brake burners slowed the missile as it touched down on the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” about 410 miles (660 kilometers) eight and a half minutes after liftoff. The reusable booster, named B1073 in SpaceX inventory, completed its eighth flight into space on Wednesday.

The Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing was discarded during the second stage burn. The rescue ship was also on station in the Atlantic Ocean to recover the nose cone halves after they had fallen under parachutes.

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The first-stage landing on Wednesday’s mission occurred just as the Falcon 9’s second-stage engine failed to deliver the Starlink satellites to a first standing orbit. The other upper stage burns 54 minutes into the mission, which reconfigured orbit before the payload separation.

The 21 Starlink spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, have been confirmed to have separated from a Falcon 9 rocket about 65 minutes after liftoff.

The Falcon 9’s guidance computer aims to deploy the satellites into an orbit at an inclination of 43 degrees to the equator, with an altitude of between 213 miles and 219 miles (344 by 353 kilometers). After separating from the rocket, the 21 Starlink spacecraft will launch the solar arrays, run them through the automated activation steps, and then use argon-fueled ion engines to maneuver them into operational orbit.

rocket: Falcon 9 (B1073.8)

Payload: 21 Starlink V2 small satellites (Starlink 6-2)

Launch site: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Station, Florida

Lunch date: April 19, 2023

launch time: 10:31:10 a.m. EST (1431:10 GMT)

weather forecast: 85% chance of fair weather; low risk of upper level winds; Reduced risk of conditions unfavorable to an enhanced recovery

Recovery from boost: Drone vessel named “A Shortfall of Gravitas” northeast of the Bahamas


target orbit: 213 miles by 219 miles (344 kilometers by 353 kilometers), 43.0 degrees

Launch timeline:

  • T+00:00: take off
  • T+01:12: Max Air Pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:25: First Engine Main Cut Off (MECO) Stage
  • T+02:28: Separation phase
  • T+02:34: Second stage engine ignition (SES 1)
  • T+03:06: Quiet off
  • T+06:08: First stage entry burner ignition (three engines)
  • T+06:31: First stage entry afterburner cut off
  • T+08:03: First stage burner ignition (single engine)
  • T+08:26: First stage landing
  • T+08:36: Second stage engine cut off (SECO 1)
  • T+54:23: Second stage engine ignition (SES 2)
  • T+54:26: Second Stage Engine Cut Off (SECO 2)
  • T+1:05:13: Starlink satellite disconnected

Mission statistics:

  • Number 218 of the Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • The 228th launch of the Falcon family since 2006
  • The eighth Falcon 9 Booster B1073 launch
  • Flight 158 ​​of the repurposed Falcon booster
  • SpaceX launch 185th from the Florida Space Coast
  • Launch of the 121st Falcon 9 from Platform 40
  • 176th launch overall from the 40 board
  • The 80th Falcon 9 launch is primarily for the Starlink network
  • Falcon 9 launch, 24th, in 2023
  • 25th launch by SpaceX in 2023
  • Launch Attempt 19 into orbit from Cape Canaveral in 2023

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