SpaceX is building the world’s most advanced internet system that consists of deploying at least 12,000 satellites over the next five years. “Starlink internet works by sending information through the vacuum of space, where it travels much faster than in fiber-optic cable and can reach far more people and places,” the company says. This week, SpaceX announced a new partnership with T-Mobile to provide satellite-to-cellular service directly to customers’ smartphones without the need for additional hardware. The companies are working to integrate the hardware to SpaceX’s next-generation satellites to be deployed to orbit in 2023. Meanwhile, SpaceX continues to launch Starlink satellites on a weekly basis to rapidly expand internet coverage globally.
On Saturday, August 27, SpaceX launched a fleet of 54 internet-beaming Starlink satellites under cloudy skies. The Starlink Group 4-23 mission lifted off 80-minutes later than originally scheduled due to the weather. A previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket launched from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 11:41 p.m. ET, carrying the satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). It marked the "highest-ever payload mass to orbit on a recoverable Falcon 9 at 16.7 metric tons," according to SpaceX engineer and launch broadcast commentator Jessie Anderson. "Squeezing extra performance out of Falcon 9 – almost at 17 metric tons to an actual useful orbit with booster & fairing reusable!" said SpaceX founder Elon Musk via Twitter. Each Starlink satellite weighs more than a quarter-ton and look like a flat-panel packed in a tight configuration, like a deck of cards, atop Falcon 9. During previous Starlink missions this year the company only packed 53 Starlink satellites, this mission carried an additional one.
SpaceX is currently the only aerospace company in the world capable of reliably reusing orbital-class rocket boosters. The Falcon 9 first-stage booster that supported this mission is identified as B1069-2. It landed on the ‘A Shortfall of Gravitas’ autonomous droneship in the Atlantic Ocean around eight minutes after liftoff in order to be reused on a future mission. It is SpaceX’s 138th landing of an orbital-class rocket and the 110th reflight of a booster. The booster previously launched SpaceX’s 24th NASA Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-24) that delivered cargo to the International Space Station in December 2021.
The Starlink Group 4-23 satellites were deployed to orbit by Falcon 9’s upper-stage around twenty minutes after liftoff. The 54 satellites are the 24th fleet that will operate in orbital Shell 4. SpaceX is arranging Phase 1 of the Starlink constellation into five orbital shells. These shells are located at different altitudes above the planet between 540 and 560 kilometers (km) with orbital inclinations of 53, 53.2, 70, and 97.6 degrees (see table below for more information). Saturday’s mission deployed satellites into Shell 4 to operate at an altitude of 540 km in LEO at an inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator. These newly launched satellites will use their onboard ion thrusters to propel into their higher operational orbit in the days ahead. To date, SpaceX has launched a total of 3,162 Starlink satellites since 2019. According to data by astronomer Jonathan McDowell, 2,895 satellites are currently in orbit.
Squeezing extra performance out of Falcon 9 – almost at 17 metric tons to an actual useful orbit with booster & fairing reusable! https://t.co/vgHsmaSj7d
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.