SpaceX on Friday launched 46 more Starlink internet satellites on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, adding more broadband relay platforms to the polar-orbiting segment of the network.
The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4-East in Vandenberg at 2:40:20 p.m. PDT (5:40:20 p.m. EDT; 9:40:20 p.m. GMT) with The 46 Starlink satellites packed flat inside the payload fairing of the launch vehicle.
The two-stage liquid-fueled launch vehicle headed south from Vandenberg, a military spaceport about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles, targeting an orbital altitude of between 191 miles and 199 miles ( 308 by 321 kilometers) at an inclination of 97.6 degrees from the equator.
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Flying over sunny skies over the central California coast, the Falcon 9 passed the speed of sound in about a minute, powered by nine Merlin 1D engines consuming a mixture of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants. The nine engines produced about 1.7 million pounds of thrust at full throttle.
The rocket ignited its first-stage engines for two and a half minutes to propel the stack of Starlink satellites into space. A single Merlin engine on Falcon 9’s upper stage then took over to inject the payloads into orbit as the first stage descended toward SpaceX’s “Of Course I Still Love You” drone positioned a few hundred feet away. kilometers in the Pacific Ocean.
The 15-stage booster used cold gas thrusters and titanium grid fins to control its hypersonic reentry into the atmosphere. Four landing legs extended from the base of the rocket as the core thruster engine made the final braking maneuver for vertical landing on the recovery ship approximately eight and a half minutes after liftoff.
The booster flight that flew on Friday, known as tail number B1061, made its 10th trip to space. The booster made its debut on November 15, 2020, with the launch of NASA’s Crew-1 mission carrying a team of four astronauts to the International Space Station. Friday’s launch of Booster No. 1061 was its first mission from Vandenberg, following nine previous flights from Kennedy Space Center or Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The payload fairing from Friday’s mission was also reused from previous missions. The two halves of the shell-like nose cone were flying for the fourth time, and a SpaceX recovery team was stationed in the Pacific Ocean to recover the fairing shells after parachuting into the sea.
As SpaceX recovery crews recovered the booster and shroud halves, Falcon 9’s single-use upper stage delivered all 46 Starlink satellites to a targeted orbit for deployment using two burns from its engine. Merlin. This set the stage for the separation of the 46 Starlink satellites approximately 63 minutes into the mission.
SpaceX waited a few minutes to confirm the deployment event until the rocket flew into range of a ground station at Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean.
After separating from Falcon 9, the Starlink satellites were to disperse and extend the solar panels to begin generating electricity to recharge their batteries. The satellites will go through an automated checkout and activation sequence, then use krypton-fueled ion thrusters to raise their altitude to 348 miles (560 kilometers), where they will enter operational service in the Starlink network.
The Starlink satellites each weigh more than a quarter ton and 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.
SpaceX’s Starlink network provides high-speed, low-latency internet service to consumers around the world. The fleet is the largest satellite constellation in orbit, with 2,287 Starlink spacecraft currently in service, and another 444 satellites raising their orbits or drifting to their operational positions in the network, according to a tabulation by Jonathan McDowellastrophysicist and expert tracker of spaceflight activity.
The 46 new satellites launched on Friday brought the total number of Starlink spacecraft deployed to date to 3,055.
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