SpaceX launched a fleet of 55 upgraded Starlink satellites to expand Internet service coverage on Sunday, February 12. A flight-proven Falcon 9 lifted off at 12:10 a.m. ET. from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. SpaceX shared a beautiful photo of the rocket launching across the sky with the Moon in the background. This launch marks the 10th orbital launch of the year. According to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, the company aims to launch 100 Falcon 9 flights in 2023 -- that is almost double what it launched last year. The company launched 61 missions in 2022.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/xDVx2vFFqD— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 12, 2023
The previously-flown Falcon 9 first-stage returned from orbit approximately eight minutes after liftoff. It landed on the ‘A Shortfall of Gravitas’ autonomous droneship in the Atlantic Ocean around 660-kilometers downrange. It marked the twelfth launch and landing for the rocket identified as booster B1062-12, which previously launched the U.S. Space Force’s GPS III Space Vehicle 04 and GPS III Space Vehicle 05 global positioning system satellites. It also launched SpaceX’s all-civilian Inspiration4 mission, the first Axiom crew (Ax-1) to the International Space Station, Egypt’s Nilesat-301 satellite, and now seven Starlink missions. To date, SpaceX has landed orbital-class rockets 171 times and reused first-stage boosters 144 times. Reusability reduces the cost of spaceflight which enables SpaceX to perform frequent missions.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship – completing this booster’s 12th flight pic.twitter.com/nPCkH5NND5— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 12, 2023
The 55 internet-beaming satellites were released to orbit around an hour after liftoff. The fleet is part of the Starlink Group 5-4, which is the fourth launch of upgraded Starlink satellites that will operate in Shell 5 of the Starlink constellation in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). These satellites feature technology of SpaceX’s Starlink Gen2 system and are considered to be a 'mini' version of future satellites. SpaceX now has 213 of these upgraded satellites operating in a 43-degree orbit at an altitude of around 530 kilometers. Eventually, the company plans to launch a larger verison of the Gen2 satellites atop Starship when it is operational. The future Gen2 satellites will be much heavier, with antennas that will enable Starlink to beam voice and messaging data directly to smartphones in collaboration with T-Mobile.
When SpaceX launched the first fleet of upgraded satellites in December 2022, the company said the satellites operating in Shell 5 "will add even more capacity to the network. Ultimately, this enables us to add more customers and provide faster service – particularly in areas that are currently over-subscribed." SpaceX has approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deploy 7,500 Starlink Gen2 satellites to LEO. As of today, SpaceX operates around 3,634 Starlink satellites in orbit that provide internet to over one million customers globally. Visit SpaceX’s official Starlink.com website for information about the broadband service.
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Featured Image Souce: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.