SpaceX launches 46 Starlink satellites and lands a rocket on a drone
SpaceX sent out another batch of its Starlink internet satellites on Friday August 12.
SpaceX launched Group 3-3 of the Starlink constellation into orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 5:40 p.m. EDT (21:40 GMT; 2:40 p.m. local time).
A Falcon 9 rocket launched Starlink 46 spacecraft into space. About nine minutes after launch, the rocket’s first stage landed atop a drone in the Pacific Ocean just under nine minutes after liftoff. The second stage was to deploy the satellites 63 minutes after launch, after the live broadcast ended.
Related: SpaceX’s Starlink megaconstellation launches in photos
The new group of satellites is part of Group 3, which orbits in a shell that could be subject to debris “bursts” from a Russian anti-satellite test that took place in November 2021, according to a recent SpaceNews report. (opens in a new tab).
SpaceNews reported that space-tracking firm COMSPOC recently revealed an event called a “conjunction squall,” in which 6,000 close approaches affected 841 Starlink satellites, representing about 30% of the SpaceX constellation.
A conjunction, according to COMSPOC standards, is defined as two orbiting objects that are within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of each other. SpaceX didn’t say whether any Starlinks were affected, but in past discussions of space junk, the company has pointed out that its satellites can maneuver to dodge spacecraft or debris that come close.
The Group 3 spacecraft (of SpaceX’s five layers of satellites) are in a similar orbit to other sun-synchronous satellites that have previously approached Russian ASAT debris, COMSPOC said in the report.
Group 3 is at an inclination of 97.6 degrees and an elevation of 347 miles (560 kilometers), according to Teslarati (opens in a new tab). SpaceX has already sent two other Group 3 collections into orbit, on July 10 and 22, both from Vandenberg.
SpaceX’s 36th launch in 2022 added to its ever-growing record of launches in one year. The company also completed its 62nd consecutive first stage landing and 34th booster flight in 2022.
Friday’s flight was the 10th for this particular Falcon 9 first leg, according to a SpaceX mission description. (opens in a new tab).