SpaceX’s Starlink fleet gets 53 new satellites with launch from Florida – Spaceflight Now


SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral for Starlink mission 4-27. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

Fifty-three new Starlink internet satellites launched Friday from Cape Canaveral aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, adding more capacity to the largest fleet of spacecraft ever to orbit.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 3:21:20 p.m. EDT (7:21:20 p.m. GMT). Nine Merlin 1D engines propelled the rocket out of the pad with 1.7 million pounds of thrust, carrying more than 15 metric tons of payload into space.

Each of the 53 satellites weighed about 650 pounds (295 kilograms) and were flat-packed to fit inside the Falcon 9 rocket’s nose cone for liftoff Friday. The mission, designated Starlink 4-27, was the 56th Falcon 9 launch primarily dedicated to deploying satellites for the Starlink network.

The launch was the 37th Falcon 9 flight of the year and the 171st launch for a Falcon 9 rocket since its debut on June 4, 2010. It was the 146th consecutive successful mission by a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy rocket since the explosion of a Falcon 9 and the destruction of its commercial satellite payload during a pre-launch test in 2016.

The Falcon 9 rocket headed northeast from Cape Canaveral after liftoff from pad 40. The first stage fired for two and a half minutes before detaching to begin a descent to SpaceX’s drone “A Shortfall of Gravitas” in the Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles (650 kilometers) downstream from the launch site.

The first-stage booster used cold gas thrusters to reorient itself to a tail-first attitude, and extended four titanium grid fins to help guide the rocket during its hypersonic reentry into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Falcon 9’s upper stage burned for approximately six minutes to place the Starlink satellites into a transfer orbit of between 144 miles and 208 miles (232 by 336 kilometers), at an inclination of 53.2 degrees per relative to the equator.

The first stage of Friday’s launch is designated B1062 in SpaceX’s inventory. The booster’s first launch took place on November 5, 2020, with a US military GPS navigation satellite. Since then, the rocket has launched two commercial astronaut missions, another GPS satellite, the Egyptian communications spacecraft Nilesat 301 and four Starlink missions.

Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing was also jettisoned during the second stage burn. A recovery ship was stationed in the Atlantic to recover the two halves of the nose cone after they splashed down under parachutes.

Falcon 9’s upper stage deployed all 53 Starlink satellites at T+plus 15 minutes, 15 seconds. Starlink satellites separated from Falcon 9’s upper stage after releasing four retention rods that held the spacecraft to the rocket during launch.

The satellites will deploy their power-generating solar panels and use ion engines to climb to an altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers). Orbit climb maneuvers typically take a few weeks to a few months, depending on the targeted orbital plan for each spacecraft.

A Falcon 9 rocket flies at the speed of sound about a minute after launching Friday from Cape Canaveral. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

SpaceX has now launched 3,108 Starlink satellites after Friday’s mission, including prototypes and earlier spacecraft designs that are no longer in service.

A tabulation by Jonathan McDowell, an expert astrophysicist and tracker of spaceflight activities, shows there are 2,809 functional Starlink satellites in orbit as of Friday. The network has 2,313 operational satellites providing consumer broadband services, and the rest are maneuvering to final orbital positions, according to McDowell.

SpaceX has two more Starlink missions planned before the end of August. One will take off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and another will depart from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Credit: Spaceflight Now

The launch of Starlink from Florida is scheduled for next Saturday, August 27. The preliminary launch time for this mission is 10:22 p.m. EDT (02:22 GMT on August 28), less than 36 hours before NASA plans to launch its massive space launch. Lunar rocket from the Pad 39B system at Kennedy.

The launch date for the Vandenberg mission has not been confirmed.

Starlink satellites are built on SpaceX’s Starlink assembly line in Redmond, Washington. Spacecraft are equipped with inter-satellite laser links to facilitate in-orbit data transfers, without the need to relay signals through ground stations, which come with geographic, and sometimes political, constraints. Laser crosslinks can also reduce latency in the Starlink network because signals must travel a shorter distance.

The photo below taken through a telescope from London, showing the 53 Starlink satellites and the Falcon 9 upper stage in space about seven minutes after payload separation.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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