SpaceX launches first mission for Starlink Gen2 constellation – Spaceflight Now

EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch our live stream of the Falcon 9 launch on the Starlink 5-1 mission.

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with 54 Starlink internet satellites from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday, with a mission to begin filling a new orbital shell authorized by federal regulators for the company’s Starlink Gen2 network earlier this month.

The takeoff of the Falcon 9 rocket from runway 40 aboard Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on SpaceX’s Starlink 5-1 mission took place at 04:34 (0934 GMT) Wednesday, approximately six minutes earlier than previously announced. The mission was SpaceX’s 60th launch of the year, and another Falcon 9 flight will be detonated this week with an Israeli Earth imaging satellite from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Launched Wednesday, 54 satellites became the first spacecraft to dock in a new part of the Starlink constellation. The Falcon 9 rocket has released 54 satellites at an orbital altitude and inclination reserved for use by SpaceX’s second-generation Starlink network, which the company plans to eventually launch on its new Starship mega rocket.

SpaceX is developing a much larger, more powerful Starlink satellite platform that can transmit signals directly to mobile phones. But with Starship’s first orbital test flight still pending, SpaceX officials have signaled that they will begin launching Gen2 satellites on Falcon 9 rockets. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk suggested in August that the company could develop a miniature version of the Gen2 satellites to fit on the Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX gave little information about the satellites launched on Wednesday. It was unclear whether SpaceX would use the satellites to test new hardware or software to be used in the Gen2 network.

But the conditions of the flight show that the Starlink satellites aboard the Falcon 9 rocket are similar in size to SpaceX’s existing Starlink spacecraft, and the larger Gen2 satellites or even the mini Gen2 satellites that are supposed to fly aboard the massive new Starship rocket don’t look like Musk. It was mentioned earlier this year. The Falcon 9 launcher, set to fly on Wednesday, had 54 satellites, the same number SpaceX has launched on many of the new Starlink missions.

An image of 54 Starlink satellites after Falcon 9’s payload detachment showed that the spacecraft was similar in appearance to internet satellites SpaceX has launched since 2019.

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with 54 Starlink internet satellites at 04:34 EST (0934 GMT) on Wednesday. Credit: SpaceX

The Federal Communications Commission has approved SpaceX. 1 to launch 7,500 of the planned 29,988 spacecraft Starlink Gen2 constellation. The regulator has delayed a decision on the remaining satellites SpaceX has proposed for Gen2.

“This launch marks the first of Starlink’s elevated network,” SpaceX said on its website. “Under our new license, we are now able to deploy satellites to new orbits that will add even more capacity to the network. As a result, this allows us to add more customers and provide faster service, especially in areas that are currently oversubscribed.”

The FCC has previously authorized SpaceX to launch and operate up to 12,000 Starlink satellites, including the approximately 4,400 first-generation Ka-band and Ku-band Starlink spacecraft SpaceX has launched since 2019. SpaceX has also received regulatory approval to launch more than 7,500 Starlink satellites. operates on a different V-band frequency.

SpaceX told the FCC earlier this year that it plans to consolidate its V-band Starlink fleet into the larger Gen2 constellation.

Gen2 satellites can improve Starlink coverage over lower latitude regions and help alleviate pressure on the network from increased consumer reception. SpaceX said earlier this month that the network now has more than 1 million active subscribers. The Starlink spacecraft is sending broadband internet signals to consumers around the world while testing continues at a research station in Antarctica.

“Our action is to help SpaceX deploy Gen2 Starlink, which will bring next-generation satellite broadband to Americans nationwide, including those living and working in regions traditionally underserved or underserved,” the FCC said in a statement. will let it begin.” 1 order partially confirming the Starlink Gen2 constellation. “Our action will also enable worldwide satellite broadband service and help bridge the digital divide on a global scale.

“At the same time, this limited grant and related terms will protect other satellite and terrestrial operators from harmful interference and promote competition by providing a safe space environment and safeguarding spectrum and orbital resources for future use,” the FCC said. “We are currently postponing action on the remainder of SpaceX’s application.”

Specifically, the FCC authorized SpaceX to launch the first block of 7,500 Starlink Gen2 satellites into orbits at 525, 530, and 535 kilometers using Ku-band and Ka-band frequencies with inclinations of 53, 43, and 33 degrees, respectively. . The FCC has delayed a decision regarding SpaceX’s request to operate Starlink Gen2 satellites in higher and lower orbits.

The Starlink 5-1 mission on Wednesday targeted a 530-kilometer-high (329-mile) orbit at an inclination of 43 degrees to the equator.

The Starlink 5-1 mission will put 54 internet satellites into orbit. Credits: Space Flight Now

After Wednesday’s mission, SpaceX has launched 3,666 Starlink satellites in more than 60 Falcon 9 rocket missions, including prototypes and failed spacecraft. The company currently has more than 3,200 Starlink satellites operating in space, of which about 3,000 are operational and about 200 are entering operational orbits. According to a painting by Jonathan McDowellan expert monitor of spaceflight activity and an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The first-generation Starlink network architecture includes satellites flying several hundred miles up, orbiting at inclinations of 97.6 degrees, 70 degrees, 53.2 degrees and 53.0 degrees relative to the equator. Most of SpaceX’s recent Starlink launches have launched satellites into Shell 4 with an inclination of 53.2 degrees, after the company largely completed its first 53-degree inclined shell launches last year.

Shell 5 of the Starlink network, with an inclination of 97.6 degrees, was believed to be one of the polar orbiting layers of the constellation. But Wednesday’s mission’s name – Starlink 5-1 – may suggest SpaceX has changed the naming scheme for its Starlink shells.

SpaceX’s launch crew was stationed at a launch control center just south of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for Wednesday’s predawn countdown. SpaceX began loading supercooled, condensed kerosene and liquid oxygen fuels into the Falcon 9 vehicle at T-minus 35 minutes.

In the last half hour of the countdown, helium pressure also flowed into the rocket. In the final seven minutes before takeoff, Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines were thermally conditioned for flight in a procedure known as “cooling down”. The Falcon 9’s guidance and range safety systems are also configured for launch.

After takeoff, the Falcon 9 rocket vectored the 1.7 million pounds of thrust produced by the nine Merlin engines to divert southeastward over the Atlantic Ocean. The launch meant the resumption of Starlink missions from Cape Canaveral using the southeast launch corridor, just as SpaceX used to take advantage of better sea conditions during the landing of Falcon 9’s first-stage booster last winter.

During the summer and fall, SpaceX launched Starlink missions on routes that run northeast from Florida’s Space Coast.

A Falcon 9 rocket is heading southeast of Cape Canaveral in this long exposure photo. Credit: Michael Cain / Space Flight Now / Coldlife Photography

The Falcon 9 rocket exceeded the speed of sound in about a minute, then stopped its nine main engines two and a half minutes after takeoff. The booster stage broke away from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fired pulses from the cold gas control thrusters and elongated titanium grille blades to help return the vehicle to the atmosphere.

The two brake burn rockets slowed to land on the “A Shortfall of Gravitas” drone carrier about 410 miles (660 kilometers) down from range about nine minutes after takeoff.

Falcon 9’s reusable payload was discarded during the second stage burn. A rescue ship was also stationed in the Atlantic to retrieve the two halves of the nose cone after falling under the parachutes.

The first phase of Wednesday’s mission came just minutes after Falcon 9’s second-stage engine was cut off to send Starlink satellites into orbit. The departure of the 54 Starlink spacecraft from the Falcon 9 rocket, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, took place approximately 19 minutes after takeoff. SpaceX had to wait until the rocket flew over a ground station in Guam to confirm Starlink’s departure from the upper stage.

Falcon 9’s guidance computer aimed to place the satellites in an elliptical orbit at an inclination of 43 degrees relative to the equator, at altitudes ranging from 131 miles to 210 miles (338 kilometers by 212). After the 54 Starlink spacecraft leaves the rocket, it will turn on the solar arrays and go through automatic activation steps, then use the ion engines to maneuver into their operational orbits.

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1062.11)

LOAD: 54 Starlink satellites (Starlink 5-1)

LAUNCH SITE: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

LAUNCH DATE: December 28, 2022

START TIME: 4:34:00 EST (0934:00 GMT)

WEATHER FORECAST: more than 90% acceptable weather chance; Low risk for high winds; Moderate risk of unfavorable conditions for reinforcement recovery

ENHANCEMENT RECOVERY: “A Shortfall of Gravitas” drone ship in northeast Bahamas


TARGET Orbit: 131 miles x 210 miles (212 kilometers x 338 kilometers), 43.0 degree slope


  • T+00:00: Departure
  • T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:29: First stage main engine shutdown (MECO)
  • T+02:32: Stage separation
  • T+02:39: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+02:44: Covering
  • T+06:44: First stage inlet burn ignition (three engines)
  • T+07:00: First stage input burning cut-off
  • T+08:26: Burnt ignition on first stage landing (single engine)
  • T+08:38: Second stage engine shutdown (SECO 1)
  • T+08:47: First stage landing
  • T+18:43: Starlink satellite separation


  • 193rd launch of Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • 202nd launch of Falcon rocket family since 2006
  • 11th launch of Falcon 9 booster B1062
  • 165th Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
  • 107th Falcon 9 launch from Runway 40
  • 162nd launch overall from pad 40
  • Flight 132 of a reused Falcon 9 booster
  • 67. Falcon 9 launch dedicated primarily to the Starlink network
  • 59th Falcon 9 launch of 2022
  • 60th launch by SpaceX in 2022
  • 57th orbital launch attempt based at Cape Canaveral in 2022

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