Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX is preparing to launch the tenth cluster of internet-beaming Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit this week. A previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket is expected liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Wednesday, July 8th at around 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time. The Starlink-9 mission is expected to deploy 58 Starlink satellites and a pair of Earth observation microsatellites for BlackSky Global, a Seattle-based company, that booked a flight under SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare program. This mission has been delayed a couple of times. “SpaceX is standing down […] in order to allow additional time for pre-launch checkouts in advance of its tenth Starlink mission. Falcon 9 and its payloads, 57 Starlink satellites and 2 satellites from BlackSky, a Spaceflight customer, remain healthy. SpaceX teams are evaluating the next earliest launch opportunity and will announce a new target date once confirmed,” company representatives wrote on June 26.
The United States Space Force 45th Weather Squadron released a Launch Mission Execution Forecast, predicting favorable conditions for launch day. Conditions are expected to be a 70% "GO" for liftoff from Launch Pad 39A during the launch window. “On Wednesday, some drier mid-level air will likely move into the area, helping to limit shower and storm coverage compared to earlier in the week,” the 45th Weather Squadron stated. “The primary concern for the launch window is the cumulus cloud rule.” Weather conditions at the Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad and sea need to be favorable for launch. SpaceX recovers the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster by performing a vertical landing on an autonomous drone ship which will be waiting at sea. The four-times-flown Falcon 9 rocket that will carry the satellites into orbit, will return from space about 9 minutes after liftoff, to conduct a vertical landing on the Of Course I Still Love You autonomous droneship, that will be waiting approximately 632 kilometers downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. Recovering and reusing reduces the cost of spaceflight, which enables SpaceX to offer much affordable rideshare prices to customers.
The Starlink satellites are a desk-sized flat antenna featuring a single solar panel, packed inside Falcon 9’s fairing in a flat configuration. Currently, 540 Starlink satellites are orbiting Earth, out of the 12,000 satellite SpaceX plans to deploy. If the upcoming mission is successful it will increase the Starlink constellation size to almost 600. These satellites will operate at an altitude of around 550-kilometers above our planet’s surface. SpaceX officials said last year that approximately 800 Starlink satellites would be needed to offer “moderate” broadband coverage in portions of the United States and Canada.
Customers will receive Starlink’s internet signal from space via 19-inch ‘UFO on a stick’ user terminals, a prototype is pictured below. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) already approved the operation of 1 million Starlink user terminals in the United States. SpaceX is hoping to roll out Starlink beta service before the year ends in portions of the northern U.S. and Canada.
* Editor's note: correction launch day July 8.