Another Sixty from Starlink

SpaceX’s first operational lunch of their new satellite Internet service, Starlink, is scheduled for 9:56 am Eastern. I don’t have much time to write this morning, but there were several details that I found.

With this launch, SpaceX becomes the world’s second largest Earth orbit satellite operator…as to numbers of operational satellites…and pushes NASA from #5 to #6. Iridium will be #3. SpaceX’s hundred fifty or so were built and launched faster and cheaper than any satellite fleet in history, so it is not really a fair comparison, but still impressive. They did that with just three launches, two test sats several years ago, sixty five or so months ago, and now this one today. These are all roughly the same design and small. NASA and the Air Force build and operate different satellites for different purposes and so each is unique and for the most part are operated by different teams of people. In other words, the infrastructure for building and operating each of the Starlink sats is simple enough to make comparing them to NASA impossible.

Ominously (and frankly…controversially) is that they intend to double that by the end of next month. In fact, they gained second place by launching a hundred and sixty of these birds…and will try and do it again EVERY MONTH until they they operate 12,000. To put that in perspective, their experimental sixty sat launch earlier this year brought the total number of satellites operated by everybody up to a record 2,000. I did double check what I typed here…I did not misplace any decimal points. The Falcon 9 can only launch sixty of these per flight, but when SpaceX starts flying their new super-heavy launcher, Starship, it can lift four hundred of them per flight and can even send smaller numbers of them to other planets in our solar system such as Mars.

That string of beads across the sky caused a bit of a stir and happened because the first sixty were highly reflective. SpaceX launches these very low just in case some are born dead, so that Earth’s atmosphere will pull them in and eat them fairly quickly. These next sixty today, and all future Starlink satellites, are painted black on the bottom so they won’t be so visible from the ground. Thank you for doing that SpaceX. In the night sky one can see roughly 4,500 stars. The total celestial sphere contains about 10,000 stars visible to the naked eye. SpaceX might fly as many as 40,000 of these Starlink satellites some day. See the problem?

The satellites will break formation in groups of 20 to their operational orbits. It takes a lot of satellites in orbit to do Internet this way at these inteded bandwidths. SpaceX will try and make some of the Internet service from Starlink available by about the middle of 2020.

Now, for the firsts.

These satellites have been designed and built to be fully destroyed when the eventually reenter the atmosphere.

This will be the heaviest payload ever launched by the Falcon 9. The other sixty sats launched five months ago lacked some features and so they had less mass.

This Falcon 9 core will be the first ever flown four times. This Mark 5 core of the Falcon 9 is built to fly ten times, so you can expect to see more firsts in this area.

The payload fairing for this flight, worth approximately 6 million dollars, first flew on the Falcon Heavy Arabsat launch earlier this year. SpaceX has two ships (Ms Chief and Ms Tree) waiting to try and catch both of these out of the air before they hit the ocean to make recovery and reuse easier.

These are the first of these Starlink sats with all of the intended features, including laser links for talking to one and other and to receive Internet data directly from things like weather satellites.

~ by Bill Housley on November 11, 2019.

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