Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX is preparing to offer Starlink satellite broadband internet in northern portions of the United States and southern Canada before this year ends. Starlink is part of the aerospace company's plan to additionally fund its space program by providing internet service to rural areas worldwide.
SpaceX's latest Starlink mission launched the thirteenth fleet of 60 internet-beaming satellites into low Earth orbit. On October 6, a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. These satellites will raise into a higher operational orbit of approximately 550-kilometers in the weeks ahead. Starlink satellites are equipped with Krypton-powered ion thrusters to move in space. SpaceX engineers shared these latest launch of satellites feature the ability to move quicker into their final orbits.
To date, SpaceX has launched a total of 775 Starlink satellites, including early prototypes. According to astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who has been following the constellation's location closely, 47 Starlink satellites have been deorbited and reentered Earth's atmosphere. McDowell published a document on his website that states --"SpaceX is retiring the V0.9 constellation of 60 prototype satellites launched in May 2019. As of October 7, 39 of the 60 satellites have reentered," he wrote, "This is a new kind of reentry: it's not a normal impulsive deorbit and not a normal orbital decay, but something in-between. The Starlink satellites are, apparently, retired by continuously lowering their orbit with electric propulsion. Reentry occurs in a way similar to uncontrolled reentry - eventually the satellite is low enough and the ambient density is high enough that the vehicle heats, breaks up and is destroyed."
"The crucial point here is that the location of the breakup on the Earth is unpredictable and uncontrolled, in contrast to an impulsive deorbit where the rapid elliptical-orbit descent from a relatively high apogee means that reentry location is determined
relatively precisely by the orbital parameters," McDowell explains. "These Starlink retirements should perhaps be termed `propulsion-assisted orbital decay'- they are more like normal uncontrolled orbital decay but speeded up by the thrusters," he wrote in his Space Report No.784 that he shared via Twitter.
Jonathan's Space Report No. 784 published at https://t.co/6gKV8Gl53V with the past month's orbital activities.— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) October 7, 2020