SpaceX’s first launch in 2022 will deploy more Starlink Internet satellites – Spaceflight Now


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File photo of a stack of Starlink satellites before a previous mission. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX plans to kick off its 2022 launch program with a Falcon 9 rocket flight on Thursday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with the company’s next set of Starlink Internet satellites.

Unlike previous Starlink missions, the Falcon 9 rocket will fly southeast of the Florida coast on a trajectory just north of the Bahamas to place the new batch of internet satellites in low earth orbit a few hundred miles above Earth.

The mission, designated Starlink 4-5, is expected to target an orbital plane tilted 53.2 degrees from the equator, one of five orbital “shells” at different tilt angles that SpaceX plans to fill with. approximately 4,400 satellites to provide high-speed, low-latency connectivity around the world.

Previous SpaceX launches carrying Starlink satellites in a similar orbit have flown northeast of Florida’s space coast. Southeast launches must fly over the Bahamas to avoid the risk of dropping debris on populated islands.

Maritime warning notices suggest the mission scheduled for Thursday will do just that, flying over the Atlantic Ocean north of the Abaco Islands, before making a slight right turn to head further downstream.

SpaceX plans to land the Falcon 9 booster first stage on the “A Shortfall of Gravitas” drone positioned in the Atlantic. The landing pad left Port Canaveral on Saturday heading towards the recovery area.

Launch on Thursday is scheduled for 4:49 p.m. EST (2149 GMT), with a backup time available at 6:47 p.m. EST (2347 GMT).

Meanwhile, crews at the nearby Cape Canaveral space station are preparing another Falcon 9 rocket for takeoff no earlier than January 13 with dozens of small satellites from U.S. and international customers. The mission, known as Transporter 3, is SpaceX’s third dedicated carpooling launch carrying small satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit.

Take-off time on Jan. 13 is 10:25 a.m. EST (3:25 p.m. GMT), and SpaceX is expected to land the first stage on a ground platform at Cape Canaveral.

Archive photo of a Falcon 9 rocket on pad 39A in 2021. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

The mission scheduled for Thursday will mark SpaceX’s 34th dedicated launch with Starlink satellites. SpaceX has not said why the Falcon 9 rocket will take the southeast route to orbit on the next flight, nor has it revealed how many Starlink satellites will be on board.

Dedicated Falcon 9 launches with SpaceX’s latest generation Starlink spacecraft carried between 48 and 53 satellites per mission. SpaceX has launched 1,944 Starlink satellites to date, and the next mission will bring that to nearly 2,000.

But not all of these satellites stay in orbit. Some failed after launch, and SpaceX intentionally desorbed others, either due to technical issues or due to obsolescence as new designs reach orbit.

A chart by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist and expert tracker of space flight activity, shows that SpaceX has 1,468 satellites providing Starlink Internet service on Sunday.

The flat screen satellites are each just over a quarter of a ton. Following the separation of the Falcon 9 rocket, the satellites will use krypton-powered ion thrusters to maneuver in their operational orbits at an altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers), joining the rest of the Starlink fleet.

SpaceX has a long-term plan to launch up to 42,000 Starlink satellites, according to a company filed with the International Telecommunications Union. The company’s initial goal is to deploy around 4,400 satellites in the first five orbital shells.

Jonathan Hofeller, vice president of Starlink and SpaceX commercial sales, said last month that the Starlink network provides Internet service to consumers in more than 20 countries.

“We have well over 100,000 subscribers, both on the consumer and business side,” he told a panel discussion at Euroconsult’s annual World Satellite Business Week event in Paris. “And we’re not slowing down. We’re just warming up.

SpaceX hopes to use the revenue from the Starlink business unit to help fund the company’s ambitions to complete development of the Starship heavy rocket, a massive, fully reusable launcher designed to eventually replace the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.


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