SpaceX teams at Cape Canaveral are preparing for the company’s 10th Falcon 9 rocket launch of the year on Wednesday, another flight dedicated to delivering satellites in orbit for the Starlink Internet network.
Like seven of the previous nine Falcon 9 missions this year, the rocket expected to lift off on Wednesday will aim to launch 60 Starlink satellites into an orbit nearly 170 miles (270 kilometers) above Earth. The 60 spacecraft will use their onboard electric thrusters to reach an operating altitude of 341 miles (550 kilometers) to join more than 1,300 Starlink satellites that provide consumer Internet service.
The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to fire its nine kerosene-fueled Merlin 1D engines and fire Platform 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 12:34 p.m. EDT (1634 GMT). ) on Wednesday.
The launch will be the first daytime liftoff from Florida’s Space Coast since January, following a series of nighttime and pre-dawn Falcon 9 launches in recent months.
Falcon 9 will head northeast from Cape Canaveral with the 60 Starlink satellites, following a track parallel to the east coast of the US to place the broadband transmission flat-panel spacecraft in an orbital plane inclined 53 degrees with with respect to the equator.
After exceeding the speed of sound and shooting into the stratosphere, the Falcon 9 will shut down its first stage amp around two and a half minutes after the mission. The 15-story rocket will return to Earth to attempt a vertical landing on SpaceX’s recovery spacecraft located in the Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles east of Charleston, South Carolina.
The thruster will use its mid-engine until the last braking just before landing on the drone ship approximately eight and a half minutes after launch. The reusable first stage flying on Wednesday’s mission, tail number B1058, has logged six pre-space flights and vice versa, beginning with the liftoff of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule last May on the first astronaut orbital ground launch. American in almost nine years.
Most recently, the thruster was launched and landed on March 11 on a mission with 60 Starlink satellites.
While the first stage arrives for a landing, the Falcon 9’s second stage will enter orbit using its single Merlin engine. The Falcon 9’s payload deck, which engulfs the Starlink for the first few minutes of flight, will be thrown away after the rocket rises above the lowest and thickest levels of the atmosphere.
The payload fairing, or nose cone, will be separated into two halves to parachute into the Atlantic to be retrieved by a SpaceX recovery boat. Half of the fairing that flies on Wednesday has already been thrown three times, and the other fairing shell has flown once.
After reaching a preliminary parking orbit, the second stage will be briefly turned back on 45 minutes into the mission to place all 60 satellites in the proper orbit for separation.
The 60 Starlink satellites, each with a mass of around 573 pounds (260 kilograms), will separate from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket at 1:38 p.m. EDT (1738 GMT).
Wednesday’s launch will be SpaceX’s 10th Falcon 9 mission so far in 2021, a record pace for SpaceX to start a year.
With this mission, SpaceX will have deployed 1,445 Starlink satellites in 26 launches, including prototypes and failed spacecraft. The active fleet of Starlink spacecraft will reach approximately 1,380 satellites with the new data relay stations scheduled for lift-off on Wednesday.
That’s more than six times more active satellites than any other operator has.
Starlink’s fleet will have the ability to provide uninterrupted Internet service to consumers with a few more launches, according to Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer.
The Federal Communications Commission has authorized SpaceX to deploy some 12,000 Starlink satellites operating in the Ku-band, Ka-band and V-band frequencies, and at a range of altitudes and inclinations in low Earth orbit.
SpaceX has been testing the speed and latency of the Starlink network since last year through a beta testing program. Customers in the northern United States, Canada, parts of Europe, Australia and New Zealand are already participating in beta testing.
Speaking at a virtual panel organized as part of the Satellite 2021 industry conference, Shotwell said Tuesday that SpaceX is focusing on hitting “performance marks” before transitioning from the Starlink network to full-scale commercial service.
“We still have a lot of work to do to make the network reliable,” Shotwell said. “We still have drops, not necessarily just because of the location of the satellites in the sky. So we will get out of beta when we have a great product that we are very proud of.
“Most of the people who have signed up for the beta program … either were completely disconnected and desperate and they loved the fact that they can do anything online, or they are quite tech-savvy people who are testing the web. , giving us feedback, “she said.” So I think the beta phase is very useful. “
SpaceX is accepting pre-orders from prospective Starlink consumers, who can pay $ 99 to reserve their spot in line for Starlink service when it becomes available in their area. For people in the southern United States and other lower-latitude regions, that should come by the end of this year, SpaceX says.
Once confirmed, customers will pay $ 499 for a Starlink antenna and modem, plus $ 50 for shipping and handling, SpaceX says. A subscription will cost $ 99 per month.
While SpaceX has hinted that the Starlink network could one day have 42,000 satellites, Shotwell said the actual number of Starlink spacecraft in orbit at any given time will depend on market demand.
“The plan is to operate a network that is very reliable, low latency and accessible to literally everyone on the planet,” he said Tuesday. “And we will add satellites to add capacity. Once we have the network, the mesh network, basically every new release just adds capacity, so we can monitor how things are going and what our service is like, and if it’s good and people like it, then we will. continue adding satellites as they allow us. “
Future Falcon 9 launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California will deploy Starlink satellites in polar orbits to expand the range of the network and enable Internet service in the Arctic and Antarctic, a capability desired by the US military. USA, One of the most lucrative programs in the Starlink program. markets.
Read our previous story for details on Vandenberg’s Starlink releases.
Shotwell predicted Tuesday that the Starlink network will be able to serve “every rural household in the United States” in three to five years.
“We are also doing these analyzes for other countries,” he said. “Our focus initially is the United States because they speak English and they are close, and if they have a problem with their plate, we can send one quickly. But we definitely want to expand this capacity beyond the US and Canada. “
A big challenge is reducing the cost of building antennas for consumers to receive Internet signals from Starlink satellites. Terminals can automatically switch from satellite to satellite when the Starlink spacecraft flies overhead.
Shotwell said SpaceX is currently building Starlink user terminals for less than $ 1,500, down from the previous cost of $ 3,000 per unit.
“We are not charging our customers what it costs us to build those terminals right now,” Shotwell said. “But we see our terminals in the range of a few hundred dollars within the next two years.”
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