SpaceX performed its 35th Starlink mission on Tuesday night. A veteran Falcon 9 lifted off a tenth time to launch another fleet of 49 Starlink satellites at 9:02 p.m. EST from Launch Pad-39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared a beautiful photograph of the rocket’s silhouette passing in front of the moon as the nine Merlin 1D engines propelled it to orbit, leaving a streak of fire in the night sky.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/aZ2vu9BOba— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 19, 2022
The first-stage booster, B1060-10, now has launched seven Starlink dedicated missions, the deployment of the U.S. Space Force’s GPS III-3 navigation satellite, the launch of the Turkish Turksat 5A satellite, and the company’s second SmallSat Rideshare Program Transporter-2 mission. Soon after launching the Falcon 9 upper-stage that protected 46 Starlink satellites upon exiting our planet, the first-stage booster returned to Earth; It landed on the ‘A Shortfall of Gravitas’ autonomous droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 654-kilometers off the coast of Florida. It marked the 10th recovery for B1060-10 and SpaceX’s 103rd landing of an orbital-class rocket booster.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship pic.twitter.com/HxtyPBsvYp— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 19, 2022
The batch of 49 internet-beaming Starlink satellites were released by Falcon 9’s second-stage around 15-minutes after liftoff. In the coming days, the fleet will separate in Low Earth Orbit to expand their single solar array. Then each will utilize their onboard Krypton-powered ion thrusters to raise into a higher operational altitude of around 540-kilometers. The satellites in this batch belong to Starlink Group 4-6. The satellites in this particular group will operate in the constellation’s Shell 4 that consists of arranging 1,584 yet-to-be-launched satellites into 72 orbital planes with 22 satellites in each plane operating at an equatorial inclination of 53.2° degrees and altitude of 540-kilometers (km). So far, SpaceX has launched five missions into Shell 4, around 30 launches will be required to complete the orbital shell (see orbital parameter data shown below). The most recent satellite deployment into Shell 4 took place on January 6 and the next could take place before the month ends. The company is working to rapidly expand internet service coverage.
Deployment of 49 Starlink satellites confirmed— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 19, 2022
SpaceX plans to arrange Phase 1 of the broadband constellation into five orbital ‘shells’ each with different orbital parameters, details shown in the graph below. The initial phase of the constellation consists of launching 4,408 Starlink satellites to provide low-latency, high-speed internet on a global scale. To date, SpaceX has launched 2,042 satellites that operate across Shell 1, Shell 2, and Shell 4. Out of those only 1,884 remain operational, according to recent data by Astronomer Jonathan McDowell. All satellites launched since November feature inter-satellite communication laser links that will enable a high-speed data transfer to users on Earth. Last week, Musk announced the laser links feature will be activated as soon as the satellites reach their operational orbits.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX Elon Musk via Twitter