Home tech SpaceX has suspended launches of its next-generation Starlink satellites

SpaceX has suspended launches of its next-generation Starlink satellites

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Side by side comparison of Starlink V1.5 and Starlink V2 Mini satellites. Credit: SpaceX / Spaceflight Now

SpaceX’s next two missions will revert to launching older versions of the company’s Starlink internet satellites, rather than new, second-generation Starlink platforms as originally planned, while ground crews resolve unspecified issues with the first. batch of upgraded Starlinks launched in February. .

Each of SpaceX’s next two Falcon 9 launches will carry more than 50 Starlink internet satellites into orbit, beginning with the scheduled liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 11:33 a.m. EDT (3:33 p.m. UTC) Friday. Another Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral is tentatively scheduled for next Wednesday, March 29 at around 9:30 a.m. EDT (1:30 p.m. UTC).

Both versions were originally slated to launch from batches of SpaceX-enhanced Starlink satellites. SpaceX said the second-generation Starlink V2 mini-satellites feature upgraded phased array antennas and have four times the communication capability of previous generations of Starlink satellites, known as version 1.5.

The first group of 21 Starlink V2 Mini satellites launched Feb. 27 on a Falcon 9 rocket, which launched the spacecraft into orbit at an altitude of about 230 miles (370 kilometers). Publicly available orbital data showed the satellites raised altitude to about 240 miles (about 380 kilometers), but the spacecraft began its gradual descent in mid-March.

Starlink satellites typically activate their thrusters to begin maneuvering from their initial orbit, where they are deployed by a Falcon 9 rocket, to higher operating altitudes of more than 300 miles above Earth. The pause in orbital excitement has raised questions among some observers about the status of the new Starlink V2 Mini satellites.

“Lots of new tech in Starlink V2 so we are having issues as expected,” Musk tweeted on Wednesday. He added that some Starlink V2 Minis could be de-orbited, while others would be “rigorously tested” before soaring above the height of the International Space Station, which flies 260 miles (420 kilometers) high.

The Falcon 9 was launched on Friday March 29. It was originally supposed to carry updated Starlink V2 Mini satellites, but SpaceX replaced the second-generation satellite constellations with older Starlink V1.5 constellations. SpaceX has not confirmed whether problems with the first 21 small Starlink V2 satellites were the reason for the payload swap on the next two Falcon 9 missions.

Friday’s launch is designated Starlink 5-5 in SpaceX’s launch sequence, and the mission scheduled for March 29 is designated Starlink 5-10. The launches will deliver groups of older-designed satellites into orbits that are part of the second-generation, or Gen2, Starlink constellation, which will eventually power primarily Starlink V2 Mini satellites and a larger spacecraft platform called Starship. size Starlink V2 on which to launch the huge future Super Heavy booster and Starship missile.

Starship has nearly 10 times the payload capacity of a Falcon 9 rocket, with a larger satellite size as well.

A view of a Starlink V2 Mini satellite captured by a sensor on an orbiting satellite aspherical imaging spacecraft, showing the Starlink spacecraft’s solar arrays extended. Credit: HEO Robotics/Satellogic

Starlink V2 satellites will be able to transmit signals directly to cell phones, a breakthrough in communication from space that other companies are also seeking. V2 Mini satellites offer E-band for backhaul connections to gateway stations.

“This means Starlink can deliver more bandwidth while increasing reliability and connecting millions of people around the world to high-speed internet,” SpaceX said ahead of the first launch of the Starlink V2 Mini satellites last month.

Another design change of the Starlink V2 Mini Enhanced Satellite concerns the propulsion system. The new satellites are propelled by an argon-fueled electric propulsion system, which is capable of producing 2.4 times the thrust with 1.5 times the specific thrust, or energy efficiency, of krypton-fueled ion thrusts on the first generation of Starlink satellites.

Each Starlink V2 Mini satellite weighs approximately 1,760 lbs (800 kg) at launch, nearly three times heavier than older Starlink satellites. It’s also larger, with a spacecraft fuselage over 13 feet (4.1 meters) wide and filling more payload for a Falcon 9 rocket at launch, according to regulatory filings with the Federal Communications Commission. .

The larger and heavier satellite platform means the Falcon 9 rocket can only launch about 21 Starlink V2 Mini payloads at a time, compared to more than 50 Starlink V1.5s in a single Falcon 9 launch.

The deployable solar panels on each Starlink V2 Mini satellite span 100 feet (30 meters) from end to end. Each of the previous generation Starlink V1.5 satellites has a single solar array wing, with each spacecraft measuring approximately 36 feet (11 meters) from end to end once the solar array is extended.

The upgrades give Starlink V2 Mini satellites a total area of ​​1,248 square feet, or 116 square meters, more than four times the area of ​​a Starlink V1.5 satellite.

The FCC granted SpaceX approval Dec. 1 to launch up to 7,500 of the planned 29,988 Starlink Gen2 constellations, which will be deployed in slightly different orbits than the original Starlink fleet. The regulatory agency has delayed a decision on the other proposed second-generation SpaceX satellites.

SpaceX began launching older-generation Starlink V1.5 satellites into the Gen2 constellation on December 28.

The FCC previously authorized SpaceX to launch and operate up to 12,000 Starlink satellites, including approximately 4,400 first-generation Ka-band and Ku-band Starlink satellites that SpaceX has launched since 2019.

Gen2 satellites can improve Starlink’s coverage in lower latitudes and help relieve pressure on the network from increased consumer adoption. SpaceX says the network has more than one million active subscribers, most of whom are households in areas where traditional fiber optic connectivity is unavailable, unreliable or expensive.

The Starlink spacecraft transmits broadband Internet signals to consumers around the world, and the means of communication are now available on all seven continents.

According to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist and expert in tracking spaceflight activity, SpaceX has launched more than 4,100 Starlink satellites to date, and more than 3,800 spacecraft are currently in orbit. The rest were prototypes, broken down spacecraft, or satellites deliberately ordered to re-enter the atmosphere and burn up.

SpaceX vice president of commercial sales Jonathan Hoefler said earlier this month that the company produces about six satellites a day at the Starlink factory near Seattle.

SpaceX tested a Falcon 9 rocket for the Starlink 5-5 mission at Cape Canaveral on Thursday morning, the day before its scheduled launch. Credit: Spaceflight Now

SpaceX tested the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the next 56 Starlink satellites at 9 a.m. EDT (1:00 p.m. UTC) Thursday from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral. After reviewing the data, engineers were to give the go-ahead for final launch preparations on Friday morning. SpaceX has three launch opportunities for the Starlink 5-5 mission at 11:33 a.m., 1:14 p.m. and 2:55 p.m. EST Friday.

Meteorologists from the US Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron expect more than a 95% chance of favorable weather conditions for liftoff on Friday.

It will take more than an hour for the Falcon 9 rocket to deploy the 56 Starlink satellites into their target orbit, after two crashes of the launcher’s upper stage engine. Flying for the tenth time, the Falcon 9 first stage is destined to land on a drone ship in the northeast Bahamas about eight and a half minutes after launch.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @employee.

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