Forecasters predict a 60% chance of favorable weather conditions for a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to launch Thursday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to carry more Starlink broadband satellites into orbit.
The launch – scheduled for Thursday at 2:19 p.m. EDT (6:19 p.m. GMT) will add an additional 60 Starlink satellites to SpaceX’s ever-growing broadband network. SpaceX has launched more than 700 Starlink satellites to date, making the company the owner of the largest fleet of spacecraft in orbit.
Like previous Starlink launches, a 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket heads northeast off the Florida space coast with 1.7 million pounds of thrust from nine Merlin main engines, then has threw his first stage thruster about two-and-one. – half a minute of flight.
A single Merlin engine on the second stage of the Falcon 9 is expected to fire twice before the stack of Starlink satellites is released into a nearly circular orbit between 172 miles (278 kilometers) and 162 miles (261 kilometers), with an inclination of 53 degrees , based on pre-launch estimates.
The separation of the 60 Starlink satellites from the rocket is expected approximately 61 minutes after launch.
SpaceX plans to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 aboard the “Just Read the Instructions” drone positioned northeast of Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean, roughly east of Charleston, South Carolina. The first stage propulsive landing is scheduled for approximately eight minutes after takeoff.
The first stage of Thursday’s launch has taken place twice before, including the May 30 launch of two NASA astronauts on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and the July 20 launch of South Korea’s Anasis 2 military communications satellite. The half of the shell-shaped payload fairing from Thursday’s mission is also a veteran of two previous Falcon 9 / Starlink launches, according to SpaceX.
SpaceX also plans to pick up the payload fairing after Thursday’s launch. The two halves of the stay are designed to descend under parachutes.
Thursday’s mission will mark the 13th launch of Starlink satellites since SpaceX launched the network deployment in May 2019. SpaceX’s last launch on September 3 carried the 60 previous Starlink satellites.
The official launch weather forecast released on Wednesday by the 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral forecasts a 60% chance of good conditions for Falcon 9 to take off on Thursday. The main weather concerns on Thursday will be cumulus and anvil clouds associated with the afternoon thunderstorms.
If the launch is delayed until Friday, there is a 40% chance that the weather will be acceptable in the forecast.
SpaceX eventually plans to launch thousands of Starlink satellites, but the first installment of Starlinks will have 1,440 spacecraft, according to Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s vice president for Starlink and commercial sales.
“The total global constellation we’re targeting is 1,440 satellites, many of which are already in orbit,” said Hofeller.
Some of the satellites, including those from Starlink’s first launch last May, are being moved to lower altitudes and desorbed.
Each flat-screen Starlink satellite weighs about a quarter of a ton and is built at a SpaceX facility in Redmond, Washington, near Seattle. Building on SpaceX’s penchant for in-house construction hardware, the aerospace company manufactures its own Starlink satellites, user terminals and ground stations.
SpaceX’s Starlink mega-constellation is already the world’s largest fleet of satellites, but hundreds more will be launched in the coming months.
Hofeller said last month that SpaceX is building six Starlink spacecraft per day and plans to launch Starlink missions every two to three weeks until the initial Starlink network of approximately 1,440 satellites is completed.
SpaceX has received regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to eventually operate nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites to cover the planet with high-speed, low-latency Internet signals. SpaceX has also signaled plans to launch up to 30,000 additional Starlink satellites – over and above the 12,000 already approved – in depots with the International Telecommunications Union.
The Starlink Network is one of two major development projects that SpaceX is pursuing, alongside the company’s next-generation ultra-heavy Starship rocket.
During a discussion at the ASCEND Space Science and Technology Summit last month, Hofeller said private beta testing is being rolled out in the Pacific Northwest. With around 700 satellites, the Starlink network has sufficient coverage to provide connectivity to users in high latitudes, but more launches are needed to expand coverage to other regions.
SpaceX has asked those interested in participating in the public beta test phase to register on the Starlink website.
With the beta testing program underway, SpaceX is collecting latency statistics and performing speed tests. The company says it is satisfied with the initial results.
SpaceX said earlier this month that tests so far show the network has “extremely low latency” with download speeds exceeding 100 megabits per second. It’s fast enough to stream multiple HD movies at once and still have some bandwidth to spare, according to SpaceX.
SpaceX has also begun testing spacecraft with inter-satellite laser links, which could eventually allow data traffic to flow through the network without passing through ground relay stations. The first batch of Starlink satellites did not carry inter-satellite links
Hofeller hinted at upgrading Starlink satellites in his virtual presentation at the ASCEND Summit of Space Science and Technology last month.
“With 1,440 satellites, we get 24/7 global coverage, and the plan is not to stop there,” said Hofeller. “We will continue to launch, and with each launch we can deliver more and more capacity. There is never enough capacity. You can’t limit what your kids want to watch and what your family wants to consume. We will therefore continue to densify the network. ”
SpaceX will deorbit older Starlink satellites as the improved spacecraft comes online, according to Hofeller.
After launch on Thursday, SpaceX’s next mission is expected to take off from Station 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Station on September 30, when a Falcon 9 rocket deploys the US Space Force’s next GPS navigation satellite.
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