SpaceX is launching rockets at an impressive rate, the company performed the third Starlink mission within five days on Wednesday, May 18th, after launching a pair of Starlink missions on May 13th and May 14th. Each mission launched 53 internet-beaming satellites to Low Earth Orbit, that's a total of 159 satellites deployed in a short span of time. Since 2019, SpaceX has launched a total of 2,653 Starlink satellites and around 2,300 remain in orbit, according to data by astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell. Overall, SpaceX plans to launch a total of 12,000 satellites to provide Starlink Internet on a global scale.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/8NrcVRbELe— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 18, 2022
The latest satellite fleet was launched to orbit on May 18th at 6:59 a.m. ET atop a Falcon 9 rocket that has now been flown five times. The company's ability to recover and reuse orbital-class rocket boosters enables it to increase the pace of launches. The flight-proven booster, identified as B1052-5, lifted off from Launch Complex-39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
This was the fifth flight for the booster which previously launched Saudi Arabia’s Arabsat-6A, U.S. Space Force STP-2 mission, Italy's COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation FM2 communications satellite, and now two Starlink missions. About nine minutes after liftoff, the previously-flown booster landed on the 'A Shortfall of Gravitas' autonomous droneship at the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 400 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral. It marked the 121st landing of an orbital-class Falcon 9 first-stage booster.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship pic.twitter.com/2sNklBXGP8— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 18, 2022
SpaceX is working to deploy Phase 1 of the Starlink constellation that consists of launching a total of 4,408 Starlink satellites into 5 orbital ‘shells’ with different parameters in Low Earth Orbit. The 53 Starlink satellites that were deployed on Wednesday belong to Group 4-18 which is the 17th launch of satellites that will operate on the fourth orbital shell. It is SpaceX’s 46th operational Starlink mission. The fourth shell consists of arranging 1,584 satellites into 72 orbital planes with 22 satellites in each plane operating at an equatorial inclination of 53.2° degrees and altitude of 540-kilometers (km). So far, SpaceX has launched 17 missions into Shell 4, around 30 launches will be required to complete the orbital shell. See Starlink Phase 1 orbital parameter data in the table below.
The 53 satellites unfurled their single solar panels and are using on-board ion thrusters to maneuver to their operational altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers) in the weeks ahead. All satellites deployed this month are expected to reach their operational altitude in weeks to months.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX