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SpaceX's first 60 Starlink broadband satellites in orbit – Spaceflight Now



A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes off from Pad 40 Thursday night at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX has successfully launched the company's first 60 members of the company's Starlink broadband satellite fleet following a launch from Cape Canaveral on Thursday night. The in-house SpaceX team will be supported by hundreds of other Starlink vehicles next year, to supplement the preliminary constellation of the network. Finally, according to SpaceX, thousands of Starlink satellites could eventually be launched to provide high-speed Internet services to consumers around the world.

The launch on Thursday night from Cape Canaveral was the first mission dedicated to the multi-billion dollar Starlink project.

"This is one of the toughest engineering projects I've ever seen, and it was done really well," said Elon Musk, Founder and CEO of SpaceX, at a press conference last week. "There are a lot of new technologies here, and it's possible that some of these satellites are not working, and indeed a small possibility that all the satellites will not work."

"We do not want to count anything until it does not work That's hatched, but I think it's a great design, and we've done everything possible to maximize the likelihood of success. A 70 meter high Falcon 9 rocket is launched from Cape Canaveral Complex 40 launch ramp at 10:30 EDT Thursday (2:30 GMT Friday) to make the journey into orbit with a thrust of over 1.7 million pounds to start nine Merlin main engines.

SpaceX tried twice to launch the mission last week, but unfavorable upper-level winds forced the team to retrieve a launch attempt. Then SpaceX washed another countdown the next day to give the engineers time to update the software on the Starlink satellites, delaying the mission by a week.

On the way northeast of Florida's space coast, the carrier's first stage completed its mission in Florida for two and a half minutes, then split and completed a targeted landing on SpaceX's drone ship in the Atlantic.

The landing interrupted Booster's third flight after successful launches and recoveries last September and January. SpaceX was able to overtake the rocket and use it again.

Rescue teams in the Atlantic also fetched the two-piece nose cone of the Falcon 9 rocket, which fell under parachutes into the sea. SpaceX has not flown in a payload fairing yet. The Falcon 9's second-stage engine shut down just before the nine-minute point of the flight, and the rocket rolled across the Atlantic, across Europe and the Middle East, and then re-ignited its Merlin engine for a brief maneuver to bring the Starlink satellites into orbit 440 kilometers above the Earth.

The missile commanded the release of the 60 Starlink satellites weighing 227 kilograms (500 pounds) at 11:32 pm EDT (0332 GMT) as the launcher hovered over a ground station in Tasmania. The live video transmitted via the tracking station showed that the satellites from the second stage of the Falcon 9 were flying freely and had fallen back from the earth's curvature.

The 60 satellites weighed 15 tons (13,620) This makes the cargo heaviest on Thursday night, which SpaceX has ever put into orbit. The new mass record exceeded the weight of SpaceX's fully stocked Crew Dragon, which launched on March 2 on a test flight to the International Space Station.

Musk described the unique Starlink separation scheme in a pre-launch press conference. [19659003] "It will look a bit different than people are used to," Musk told reporters last week. "It's going to be a very slow mission where we turn the stage and each of the satellites on the stack has a slightly different rotational inertia."

Live video from a camera aboard the upper stage showed the rocket Begin a turning maneuver just before use. The 60 flat-screen satellites, which are not separate or in pairs, but in a group are separated from each other, as spaceships often do it when letting go of the launcher.

"There is actually no spring-based or specific deployment mechanism per satellite," Musk said. The satellites are used, as it were, as if you were spreading a deck of cards on a table. This will be a bit strange compared to normal satellite deployments.

The Starlink satellites dissipated shortly after the Falcon 9 split, before SpaceX completed the mission's live webcast. The upper stage later carried out a deorbit incineration to return to the atmosphere and burn.

Musk tweeted after launching on Thursday night that all 60 Starlink satellites are "online" and activate their ion engines within hours.

Each satellite is equipped with a krypton-ion propulsion system and Ku-band antennas to continue the demonstration of SpaceX's planned broadband network in orbit, potentially including up to 12,000 small earth orbit relay stations. Future Starlink satellites will include Ka-band and V-band radio transmission hardware as well as laser inter-satellite links to allow signals to jump in orbit between spacecraft instead of traversing a ground station. [19659003] Each Starlink spacecraft has a flat-panel design with four high-throughput phased array antennas and a single solar array, according to SpaceX. The company built the satellites at a new facility in Redmond, Washington.

According to SpaceX, the Starlink satellites are the first to use krypton-powered ion engines. The propulsion system ionizes the crypton gas and uses electricity to accelerate the atoms in the rear of the engine to produce a low thrust.

Ion engines offer a more fuel-efficient drive than conventional liquid propellants, but most satellites use xenon gas when using ion propulsion. Krypton is cheaper than xenon, but offers lower thrust efficiency. This emerges from a paper presented by engineers of the US Air Force and the satellite industry in 2011.

Ideas from SpaceX and other commercial broadband providers planning to launch thousands of new satellites into orbit raise traffic management issues. SpaceX originally planned to bring the first batch of Starlink satellites into orbit more than 1,150 kilometers. However, last year the company asked the Federal Communications Commission for approval to operate the network at a lower level.

] The FCC approved the request last month.

Artist concept of a Starlink satellite with spread solar panel wing. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX officials said lower altitudes for the first Starlink satellites would help erase concerns about space debris. If a Starlink relay station in the lower orbit fails, the satellite will be returned to Earth through atmospheric drag within about five years.

"In addition, 95 percent of all components of this design end up burning fast in the Earth's atmosphere. The satellite's lifecycle, which surpasses all current safety standards, and future iterative constructions that lead to complete resolution are on the" SpaceX "plan.

SpaceX launched two Starlink test satellites as piggyback payloads on a launch of Falcon 9 last year, but the vehicles launched on Thursday night are lighter and have a different design.

With their krypton engines, the new Starlink satellites will ascend 53 degrees above the equator into higher orbits above the Earth.

Previous initiatives to create an extensive communication satellite network in Earth orbit, a regime a few hundred miles above the Earth, met with technical and financial headwinds. Traditional communications satellites fly in higher geostationary orbits, more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) above the equator, with a single spacecraft covering a large geographic region.

In lower orbits, the Starlink satellites will bounce signals from user to user over a complicated network of radio links through ground stations and finally via the inter-satellite laser cross-connects.

"The goal of the Starlink system is to enable high-bandwidth, low-latency connections, ideally globally if possible. Regulatory approval would provide connectivity to people who today have no connectivity or are extremely expensive and unreliable, as well as options for people who have connectivity in developed areas of the world today, but this is very expensive. "Musk said. "This will be a competitive option for them."

Starlink is one of several companies working on constellations of small broadband satellites in near-Earth orbit. Supported by a number of international investors, including the Japanese SoftBank group, OneWeb launched its first six satellites with a Soyuz rocket in February. Over the next two years, hundreds of other satellites will be launched into orbit, and Amazon plans to build an existing network of thousands of satellites for Internet services.

"There is a lot of basic goodness about Starlink," he said. "We just want to make sure that the appropriate restrictions exist. There is a lot of technology, this is very difficult, and frankly, in the past, the success of communications constellations in near-Earth orbit has, in my opinion, never been successful without bankruptcy.


Spaceflight Now members can read a transcript of the May 15 press release with Elon Musk. Become a member today and support our coverage.

SpaceX has received regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission for nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites broadcast on Ku-band, Ka-band and V-band frequencies, with groups of spacecraft at different altitudes and in different levels in Earth orbit. However, the early focus is on launching hundreds of satellites to build a network that covers most of the world's population.

"It is important to distinguish between the initial operating capability, which is at 400 satellites, and the significant operability The system has a satellite size of approximately 800. Thereafter, more and more satellites and orbital planes must be added the more the system is used and the less bandwidth available, "Musk said. "You do not need nearly 10,000 satellites to be effective. … Starting from the 400th satellite launch, we will begin selling services and then make sure that the production and launch of satellites are ahead of user demand.

SpaceX could expand the network to meet the threshold of 12,000 satellites if requested

After the first Starlink launch, SpaceX is planning two to six more Starlink missions later this year to complete the first phase of the Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX

SpaceX unveiled a new Starlink website shortly after launch on Thursday night. According to the website, the Starlink system will provide broadband service across the latitudes of the northern United States and Canada after six more launches. After 24 launches, the network should cover the populous world.

According to Musk, a flat antenna – about the size of a small or medium sized pizza – is relatively easy to set up. He did not say how much the user terminal will cost, nor did he announce the expected price of a Starlink broadband service subscription.

In addition to end-user broadband, the Starlink network could help large telecommunications operators in rural areas. Airplanes and ships are also Starlink's main markets.

"We believe that this can be very helpful to telecoms companies because they provide connectivity that they need for the most difficult-to-use customers, as well as providing data backhaul services. A telecommunications company could dump a 5G cell tower somewhere instead of digging a trench over possibly hundreds of miles, "Musk said. "This 5G mobile tower could retrieve data via our satellite system."

According to Musk, SpaceX has enough money to put the privately funded Starlink system into operation. A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last month revealed that SpaceX had raised $ 44 million in a $ 400 million donation round, and a January filing showed that SpaceX had raised $ 273 million from a proposed $ 500 million in an earlier round would have.

But Musk recounted Last week, reporters found that SpaceX's funding rounds were "oversubscribed" and the information contained in the regulatory filings was "outdated".

"This is obviously a billion dollar venture," Musk said. "So we have the cash flow we get from our normal takeoffs, the launch of commercial satellites, and the launch of Dragon to the space station, as well as the capital we've accumulated, at which point we seem to have enough capital to operate But of course, in this situation, we need to raise more capital when things go wrong and unexpected problems arise. "

Tim Farrar, a satellite and telecommunications consultant, said the first broadband network launch was SpaceX and OneWeb Pressure on Other Actors

"We will compete in a SpaceX-OneWeb race to launch as many satellites as possible," said Farrar in an interview with Spaceflight Now prior to launching Starlink other constellations like Telesat to find partners and raise money, unless they find a deal with Jef for Bezos and Amazon.

"OneWeb said … to launch 100 satellites by the end of this year or early next year, and SpaceX plans to launch more in the next six to twelve months," said Farrar, President of TMF Associates, a consulting firm in Menlo Park, California "At this point, you have a question … Is there room for another player who will need a few years before he can launch any more satellites?"

Musk does not have the Starlink system It could also provide SpaceX with a potential source of revenue to finance expensive rocket development projects such as Starship and Super Heavy, which sees Musk as a reusable multi-purpose vehicle for large satellite launches and interplanetary travel with cargo and people.

"We see this as one Possibility for SpaceX to generate revenue for the development of more advanced rockets and spaceships can be used, and we think that this is an important step on the way to creating a self-supporting platform on Mars and in Europe is a base on the moon, "said Musk. "We believe we can use Starlink's revenue to fund Starship."

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