SpaceX passes 2,500 satellites launched for Starlink - Spaceflight Now

SpaceX passes 2,500 satellites launched for Starlink – Spaceflight Now

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into the sky above Vandenberg Space Force Base to launch the Starlink 4-13 mission. Credit: Gene Blevins / LA Daily News

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket off California’s central coast on Friday afternoon with another batch of 53 Starlink internet satellites, bringing the total number of spacecraft launched into the network to over 2,500, including test equipment and prototypes that have already been withdrawn from the fleet.

Falcon 9 launched on Friday at 15:07:50 PDT (18:07:50 EDT: 2207: 50 GMT) from Vandenberg Space Force Base, a military spaceport between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

With the wind at Vandenberg near the Falcon’s launch limit of 9, a 229-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket propelled the sunny sky with nine Merlin engines that cut up to 1.7 million pounds of thrust.

Towards the south-southeast, the kerosene-burning engines shut down two and a half minutes after takeoff, and then the booster was disconnected from the second stage of the Falcon 9. A single second-stage engine lit up to accelerate 53 Starlink satellites into orbit, while the booster descended to power landing on the floating SpaceX drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Pacific Ocean.

The landing marked the end of the fifth flight of this booster – tail number B1063 – because the upper stage of Falcon 9 followed the trajectory along Southern California and Baja California.

The second stage of the Falcon 9 launched its engine twice to place the Starlink flat satellites in an almost circular orbit about 193 miles (310 kilometers) above the Earth, at a slope of 53.2 degrees to the equator.

The SpaceX launch team confirmed that the rocket had placed the satellites in the expected orbit, and then deployed the Starlink spacecraft about 62 minutes after launch. Retaining rods released from the second stage of Falcon 9 to allow Starlink satellites, each weighing more than a quarter of a ton, to fly freely from the rocket.

This view of the launch of Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Space Force Base combines 22 stacked images to track the rocket’s south-southeast trajectory with 53 Starlink Internet satellites. Credit: William G. Hartenstein

The mission was the 19th launch of Falcon 9 this year and the 45th SpaceX mission primarily to deploy satellites for the Starlink Internet network.

The launch from Vandenberg has increased the total number of Starlink satellites launched to more than 2,547 spacecraft. This number includes prototypes, failed satellites and decommissioned spacecraft that are no longer in the constellation.

According to an analysis by Jonathan McDowell, a space flight activity astrophysicist is currently in orbit and operating more than 2,200 Starlink satellites. That’s about half of the planned first-generation network of 4,408 Starlink satellites planned by SpaceX.

These 4400 satellites will be deployed between five different orbital “shells” at different altitudes and slopes. SpaceX, founded and led by Elon Musk, has indicated that it eventually intends to launch up to 42,000 satellites.

The network transmits low-speed, low-latency Internet signals worldwide to consumers, underserved communities, and other potential users, such as the U.S. military. SpaceX says the Starlink network is now available to consumers in 32 countries.

After detaching from the Falcon 9 rocket, Starlink satellites were programmed to deploy solar panels and activate krypton-powered ion jets to begin increasing their orbits to an operating altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers).

Credit: Spaceflight Now

Friday’s mission from California was to be followed by another Saturday’s Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral. Florida’s launch will bring another 53 Starlink Internet satellites into orbit.

The start of this year’s 20th SpaceX mission is set at 16:40:50 EDT (2040: 50 GMT) from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. With a brand new first stage, Falcon 9 will head northeast from Florida’s launch base to transport its Starlink to the same height and slope as Friday’s flight.

Back-to-back launches continue the tumultuous cadence of SpaceX launches in 2022. With Saturday’s next launch, SpaceX will record seven Falcon 9 missions in less than a month.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.

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