SpaceX launches third Falcon 9 rocket mission in three days – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off Thursday along with 49 other Starlink internet satellites. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

Another 49 Starlink internet satellites blasted off Thursday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a Falcon 9 rocket, marking SpaceX’s third launch and landing this week, and the company’s sixth mission in 28 days.

A Falcon 9 rocket launched from pad 39A at the Florida Spaceport at 1:13:20 p.m. EST (6:13:20 p.m. GMT) on Thursday. Thrust from nine Merlin engines propelled the launch vehicle through clear skies on a trajectory southeast of Florida’s space coast.

The mission, designated Starlink 4-7 in SpaceX’s launch schedule, aimed to release the Starlink satellites at T+plus 15 minutes, 31 seconds, into an orbit varying in altitude between 130 miles and 210 miles (210 by 339 kilometers). at an inclination of 53.2 degrees from the equator.

SpaceX confirmed that Falcon 9’s upper stage had reached its planned orbit, but officials had to wait an hour and a half to confirm successful separation of all 49 satellites. The deployment occurred when the rocket was flying out of range of ground tracking stations, and SpaceX did not receive telemetry verifying the separation until the rocket had flown past Earth and passed overhead. from a tracking site in Alaska.

The satellites will deploy solar arrays and fire ion thrusters to maneuver into their operational orbit at an altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers)

The first leg of Thursday’s mission, tail number B1061, landed on SpaceX’s drone “A Shortfall of Gravitas” in the Atlantic Ocean near the Bahamas. The landing concluded the sixth space trip for the B1061 reusable booster stage.

A Falcon 9 rocket lifted into space Thursday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

The Starlink 4-7 mission was delayed from last weekend to await two higher-priority Falcon 9 launches. One, carrying an Italian radar satellite, suffered a series of delays caused by bad weather and a cruise ship in the launch danger zone downstream.

The Italian radar satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral on Monday, and a classified National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite was launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Wednesday.

The 49 flat-panel Starlink satellites packed inside the Falcon 9 rocket’s payload fairing for liftoff Thursday will join more than 1,500 operational spacecraft in SpaceX’s global internet network.

The satellites each weigh more than a quarter ton and were built at SpaceX’s Starlink factory in Redmond, Washington. SpaceX has launched 2,042 Starlink satellites so far, including spacecraft that have failed or been previously decommissioned, and the 49 satellites that lifted off on Thursday brought that number to 2,091.

SpaceX continues to deploy about 4,400 Starlink satellites in five orbital “shells” at slightly different altitudes and at different inclinations or angles to the equator. The launch Thursday targeted an orbital shell at an inclination of 53.2 degrees and an altitude of 335 miles.

A Falcon 9 rocket lifted into space Thursday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

SpaceX also unveiled this week a new “premium” offer of its Starlink Internet service aimed at professional and enterprise customers. Starlink Premium, says SpaceX, is “designed specifically for high-demand users.”

Last month, SpaceX said the Starlink network was active in 25 countries and regions, serving more than 145,000 users worldwide. SpaceX builds its Starlink satellites on an assembly line in Redmond, Washington, and the company develops and iterates its own user terminals.

For standard Starlink service, customers pay $499 for a Starlink antenna and modem, plus a $99 refundable deposit. A subscription to the high-speed, low-latency service costs $99 per month.

To sign up for SpaceX’s Starlink Premium product, a customer must pay a $500 refundable deposit and $2,500 for delivery of ground equipment to connect to the network. The monthly fee for the service is $500.

Starlink Premium offers double the antenna capacity of standard Starlink service, plus a signal designed to perform better in extreme weather conditions, according to SpaceX. Deliveries for Starlink Premium customers will begin in the second quarter of this year.

A stack of Starlink satellites before a previous launch. Credit: SpaceX

“Starlink Premium users can expect download speeds of 150-500 Mbps and latency of 20-40 ms, enabling high-speed connectivity for small offices, storefronts, and super users across the world,” SpaceX says on its website.

SpaceX hopes to use revenue from the Starlink business unit to help fund the company’s ambitions to complete development of the Starship heavy rocket, a massive, fully reusable launch vehicle designed to eventually replace the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

SpaceX plans to launch more Starlink missions in late February from Florida and California. The next launch from Cape Canaveral is slated for no earlier than Saturday, when a small commercial satellite launcher developed by Astra lifts off with four CubeSats for NASA.

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