On Tuesday, August 9, SpaceX reused a Falcon 9 to launch the 53rd operational Starlink mission designated as Group 4-26. The previously-flown rocket lifted off at 10:14 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying 52 Starlink satellites to orbit. Reusing Falcon 9 first-stage boosters has enabled SpaceX to increase its launch pace. The company is launching rockets around every 6.3 days. The Starlink Group 4-26 mission was the 35th rocket launch of 2022.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/j5xpFbHplK— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 10, 2022
It was the Falcon 9's first-stage booster third spaceflight. The booster, identified as B1073-3, previously launched the SES-22 mission and now two Starlink missions. Approximately eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, SpaceX recovered the booster by landing it on the 'A Shortfall of Gravitas' autonomous droneship stationed around 400 miles (650 kilometers) downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. It marked the 135th landing of an orbital-class rocket and the 111th reflight of a booster.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship pic.twitter.com/dh2gpVSu49— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 10, 2022
The 52 Starlink Group 4-26 satellites were released to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by Falcon 9's upper-stage around half-an-hour after liftoff. Each satellite weighs more than a quarter-ton. SpaceX is working to deploy Phase 1 of the Starlink constellation which consists of launching 4,408 Starlink satellites and arranging them into five orbital ‘shells’ each with different orbital parameters, details shown in the table below. The Group 4-26 satellites are the 24th launch of satellites that will be arranged in orbital Shell 4. Falcon 9’s guidance computer deployed the satellites into an elliptical orbit at an inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator. Then the satellites unfurled their single solar arrays and are utilizing onboard krypton-fueled ion engines to maneuver into their operational orbit to reach a circular orbit of 540 kilometers above Earth.
According to data by leading Astronomer Jonathan McDowell, SpaceX has launched a total of 3,009 Starlink satellites of which ~2,750 are still in orbit. Ultimately, SpaceX aims to complete launching a total of 12,000 satellites within the next five years. As of today, Starlink provides high-speed internet across 37 countries and the service is rapidly expanding coverage as the satellites reach their designated operational altitude in LEO. SpaceX recently received approval to operate Starlink aboard moving vehicles, including sea-going vessels, airplanes, trucks, and RVs. Visit Starlink.com for more information.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX