SpaceX creates new milestone in Falcon 9 reuse with Starlink launch

The record-setting seventh launch concluded with the rocket’s first stage landing on a droneship in the Atlantic. It first flew in September 2018, launching the Telstar 18 Vantage satellite, then completed the final Iridium mission in January 2019, after which it launched four Starlink missions from May 2019 to August 18.

SpaceX creates new milestone in Falcon 9 reuse with Starlink launch
SpaceX creates new milestone in Falcon 9 reuse with Starlink launch

SpaceX creates new milestone in Falcon 9 reuse with Starlink launch

With the launch of the latest Starlink satellite on November 24, SpaceX has created a new milestone in Falcon 9 reuse, with the company requesting permission to deploy Starlink satellites into a new orbit.

The Falcon 9 rocket was launched from the Space Launch Complex 40 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 9:13 p.m. Eastern. Its payload of 60 Starlink satellites was released into low Earth orbit just 15 minutes later.

The record-setting seventh launch concluded with the rocket’s first stage landing on a droneship in the Atlantic. It first flew in September 2018, launching the Telstar 18 Vantage satellite, then completed the final Iridium mission in January 2019, after which it launched four Starlink missions from May 2019 to August 18.

This was the 100th launch for the Falcon 9, including the June 2015 launch failure, but not the self-destruction on the launch pad during preparations for a static-fire test in September 2016.

Till date, SpaceX has launched 955 Starlink satellites, with 895 of them currently in orbit. The company has already begun beta testing of the broadband internet service provided by them in the northern U.S. and southern Canada. While webcasting the latest launch, SpaceX said the beta test would soon be expanded “in a notable way” in late January or early February.

So far, SpaceX has launched these satellites into orbits at an inclination of 53 degrees, which maximizes coverage over mid-latitude regions, but excludes those at higher latitudes, such as Alaska, northern Canada, and northern Europe.

The original authorization from the Federal Communications Commission had approved other satellites at higher orbits and inclinations, but in April, the company filed a proposed modification to lower them all into orbits between 540 and 570 kilometers.

On November 17, SpaceX sought permission from the FCC to begin launching satellites into sun-synchronous orbit. The goal was to launch 58 satellites into one of six orbital planes at a 97.6 degrees inclination by December, as it would allow it to start providing broadband service in rural Alaska.

While it didn’t elaborate on the details of this launch opportunity, it stated that it had already resolved a concern with Amazon regarding a potential conflict with its proposed Project Kuiper constellation. SpaceX agreed to set the orbital tolerances on the Starlink satellites at 570 kilometers, so they would not fly higher than 580 kilometers, thereby avoiding Kuiper satellites at 590 kilometers.

However, Viasat, another satellite operator, objected to this on November 19, stating that commercial expediency could not justify bypassing the requirements of the Communications Act and risk compromising orbital safety. In its FCC filing, it also said that there exists significant doubts about whether SpaceX has met the public interest standard.

In its earlier filings, Viasat has criticized the reliability of Starlink satellites over concerns about their premature failures, and stated that there is no evidence that supports the December launch opportunity being the only viable one, especially since SpaceX controls the launches. The FCC is yet to respond to SpaceX’s request.