SpaceX Launches 54 Upgraded Starlink Broadband Satellites in 60th Mission of the Year

SpaceX can now “put satellites in new orbits,” which will give the network even more space. Early on Wednesday (Dec. 28), SpaceX put into orbit the first of a new generation of Starlink satellites and landed a rocket at sea, making it a record 60th flight of the year.

At 4:34 a.m. EST (9:34 GMT), a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 54 upgraded Starlink internet satellites—the first generation 2 (Gen2) versions of the SpaceX fleet—took off smoothly from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

“Under our new licence, we are now able to deploy satellites to new orbits that will add even more capacity to the network,” Jesse Anderson, a SpaceX production and engineering manager, said during live launch commentary. “Ultimately, this enables us to add more customers and provide faster service, particularly in areas that are currently oversubscribed.”

About eight minutes after launch, the Falcon 9’s first stage came back to Earth and landed on the SpaceX drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas in the Atlantic Ocean. Rough weather in the area threatened to delay the launch, but the launch went ahead anyway. The landing was a successful end to SpaceX’s 60th launch of 2022, which was almost twice as many as the previous record of 31 launches set in 2021.

With Wednesday’s launch, the first stage of the Falcon 9 used for this mission flew for the eleventh time. SpaceX says that the booster has already been on five Starlink missions, launched two U.S. GPS satellites and the commercial satellite Nilesat 301, and carried two private astronaut crews on the Inspiration4 and Ax-1 missions.

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Anderson said the company will also try to get back the two used halves of the payload fairing that made up the nose cone of the Falcon 9 so they can be used again.

SpaceX’s Gen2 of Starlink is said to be more powerful than the 3,300 or so working in orbit right now, and it looks like SpaceX needs the bandwidth boost. A recent SpaceNews report said that the broadband network is having trouble with traffic even though hundreds of first-generation Starlink satellites have been launched this year.

“Starlink is a satellite internet constellation designed and manufactured by SpaceX to provide high-speed, low-latency internet to people living in remote and ural locations around the globe,” Anderson said.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) let SpaceX put up 7,500 Gen2 satellites on December 1. That was only a partial approval, though, because SpaceX also asked the FCC for permission to send nearly 30,000 of these satellites into low Earth orbit.

Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, has said that Gen2 satellites can send service directly to smartphones and can handle more traffic. This crop is going into space on a Falcon 9, but SpaceX plans to use its huge Starship rocket, which is still being built and has been waiting 18 months for permission to fly to space.

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