This evening, SpaceX launched the Starlink Group 4-3 mission with a veteran Falcon 9 rocket. The booster conducted its ninth reflight to deploy 48 internet-beaming Starlink satellites and a pair of Earth-imaging BlackSky satellites hitched a ride aboard the spaceflight. The flight-proven rocket, identified as booster B1060-9, lifted off at around 6:12 p.m. EST on December 2nd, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The first-stage booster supporting this mission previously launched the United States Space Force’s GPS III-3 navigation satellite, Turksat 5A satellite for the country of Turkey, SpaceX’s Transporter-2 rideshare mission, and five previous Starlink missions.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/7ZlakB8pSk— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 2, 2021
Approximately nine minutes after liftoff, the first-stage booster returned from space, it landed on the ‘A Shortfall of Gravitas’ autonomous droneship that was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 620-kilometers downrange Florida’s Coast. It marked SpaceX’s 96th landing of an orbital-class rocket booster. By reusing a Falcon 9’s first-stage booster, the company reduces the cost of spaceflight. Each Falcon 9 [Block 5] booster in SpaceX’s fleet will be reused at least 10 times.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship pic.twitter.com/mvnvL25hrf— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 2, 2021
The satellites will be deployed around an hour after liftoff. First, the two BlackSky satellites will be released out of the payload fairing back-to-back. BlackSky has contracts with the U.S. military and commercial companies to provide high-resolution imagery of Earth from outer space, that can be useful for national security and humanitarian aid. During the mission's broadcast, SpaceX commentator said the BlackSky satellites feature real-time geo-spatial intelligence to provide data of Earth’s surface. Around 20-minutes after the BlackSky satellites are released to orbit, the fleet of 48 Starlink Group 4-3 satellites will be deployed. (This article will be updated as soon as the satellites are deployed.) UPDATE: SpaceX announces successful satellite deployment.
Deployment of BlackSky satellites confirmed— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 3, 2021
Deployment of 48 Starlink satellites confirmed— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 3, 2021
The first phase of building the Starlink constellation involves deploying internet-beaming satellites into five orbital shells. The company is currently working to fill-up Shell 4, alongside Shell 2; Shell 1 is near completion. The Group 4-3 mission will be the second to launch Starlink satellites into orbital Shell number 4. Early November the company launched the first Shell 4 deployment, known as Group 4-1. Shell 4 will comprise 72 orbital planes with 22 satellites in each plane. Shell 4 will have a total of 1,584 satellites operating in an inclination of 53.2° Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at a circular altitude of 540-kilometers. Around 30 launches will be required to fill this orbital shell.
With today’s Starlink deployment, SpaceX’s constellation will increase to around 1,892 internet-beaming satellites in LEO. Over the next seven years, the constellation could have over 12,000 satellites that will blanket the Earth with high-speed broadband internet connection. This will be beneficial to remote regions around the globe where internet service is unreliable or completely unavailable. The Starlink constellation currently beams internet service to a bit over 140,000 users living across 20 countries, including in the United States, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Visit SpaceX’s official website for more information: Starlink.com.
VIDEO: SpaceX Starlink & BlackSky Satellite Launch
Featured Image Source: SpaceX Broadcast