SpaceX’s Starlink fleet gets 53 new satellites from Florida launch – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral on the Starlink 4-27 mission.Credit: Michael Caine/Spaceflight Now/Cold Life Photography

On Friday, a Falcon 9 rocket launched 53 new Starlink internet satellites from Cape Canaveral, adding more capacity to the largest fleet of spacecraft ever to enter orbit.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket took off from Launch Pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 3:21:20 pm ET (1921:20 GMT). Nine Merlin 1D engines powered the rocket with 1.7 million pounds of thrust, sending more than 15 metric tons of payload into space.

Each of the 53 satellites weighs about 650 pounds (295 kilograms) and is flat-packed to fit the nose cone of a Falcon 9 rocket for liftoff Friday. The mission, named Starlink 4-27, was the 56th Falcon 9 launch and was primarily used to deploy satellites for the Starlink network.

The launch was the 37th Falcon 9 flight of the year and the 171st since the Falcon 9 rocket debuted on June 4, 2010. It was the 146th consecutive successful mission by a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy since the rocket exploded. Destruction of Falcon 9 and its commercial satellite payload during pre-launch testing in 2016.

The Falcon 9 rocket flew northeast from Cape Canaveral after liftoff from Pad 40. The first stage took two and a half minutes to launch, then began to descend toward SpaceX’s unmanned ship “gravity shortage” at around 400 meters. miles (650 kilometers) from the launch site.

The first-stage booster uses cold gas thrusters to redirect itself into a tail-first attitude and extends four titanium mesh fins to help guide the rocket during hypersonic reentry into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the Falcon 9’s upper stage burned for about six minutes, sending the Starlink satellite into a transfer orbit between 144 miles and 208 miles (232 × 336 kilometers) at 53.2 degrees from the equator.

The first stage of Friday’s launch was designated B1062 in SpaceX’s inventory. The first launch of the booster was on November 5, 2020, with a US military GPS navigation satellite. Since then, the rocket has launched two commercial astronaut missions, another GPS satellite, the Egyptian Nilesat 301 communications spacecraft and four Starlink missions.

The Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing was also discarded during the second stage burn. A recovery ship docked in the Atlantic Ocean to recover the two halves of the nose cone after being splashed under a parachute.

Falcon 9’s superiors deployed 53 Starlink satellites in T+15 minutes and 15 seconds. The Starlink satellite detached from the Falcon 9’s upper stage after releasing four anchor rods that held the spacecraft to the rocket during launch.

The satellites will deploy their power-generating solar arrays and use ion engines to climb to an altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers). Orbit-raising operations typically take weeks to months, depending on each spacecraft’s target orbital plane.

The Falcon 9 rocket flew at the speed of sound about a minute after its launch from Cape Canaveral on Friday.Credit: Michael Caine/Spaceflight Now/Cold Life Photography

Following Friday’s mission, SpaceX has now launched 3,108 Starlink satellites, including prototypes and early spacecraft designs that are no longer in use.

As of Friday, 2,809 Starlink satellites were in orbit, according to a table by astrophysicist and space activity tracking expert Jonathan McDowell. According to McDowell, the network has 2,313 satellites in operation, providing consumer broadband services, with the remainder entering final orbital positions.

SpaceX plans to fly two more Starlink missions by the end of August. One will take off from Launch Site 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and the other will take off from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Credit: Spaceflight Now

The Starlink launch from Florida is scheduled for next Saturday, August 27. The mission’s initial launch time is 10:22 p.m. ET (0222 GMT on Aug. 28), less than 36 hours before NASA plans to launch its huge space launch of its system lunar rocket from Kennedy Base 39B.

A launch date for the Vandenberg mission has not yet been set.

Starlink satellites are built on SpaceX’s Starlink assembly line in Redmond, Washington. The spacecraft is equipped with laser inter-satellite links to facilitate on-orbit data transfer without relaying signals through ground stations, which are subject to geographic and sometimes political constraints. Laser crosslinking can also reduce latency in the Starlink network, as signals need to travel shorter distances.

The photo below, taken through a telescope in London, shows 53 Starlink satellites and Falcon 9’s upper layers in space about 7 minutes after the payloads separated.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @Stephen Clark 1.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.