SpaceX sent the first of a new generation of Starlink internet satellites into orbit in a spectacular sunset kick off Monday (February 27) evening.
Twenty-one of SpaceX’s new “V2 mini” Starlink satellites lifted off from a Falcon 9 rocket at 6:13 p.m. EST (2313 GMT) Monday from Cape Canaveral Space Station in Florida. It was about five hours later than originally planned, due to “space weather concerns,” According to a SpaceX Twitter update (Opens in a new tab).
The Falcon 9 first stage returned to Earth as planned 8.5 minutes after liftoff, landing it on SpaceX’s A Shortfall of Gravitas drone, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. SpaceX representatives said that this was the third take-off and landing of this particular booster.
The upper stage of the rocket continued to make its way into low Earth orbit. If all goes according to plan, it will deploy 21 Starlink satellites 64.5 minutes after liftoff.
Related: 10 strange things about SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites
The 21 miniature Starlink V2 satellites are a test suite designed to fit into the backbone of SpaceX’s Falcon 9. The full-size Starlink V2 spacecraft will be launched in batches aboard SpaceX’s massive Starship Mars rocket, which is not yet operational.
Full-size Starlink V2s are larger and more capable than previous generations of Starlink, according to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. Each V2 spacecraft weighs 1.25 tons (1,130 kilograms) and will be able to transmit service directly to mobile phones; SpaceX has already announced its intention to do so in 2023 through a partnership with T-Mobile.
The V2 minis are smaller than the full-size variant but still larger and more capable than the other Starlink spacecraft SpaceX has launched to date.
“V2 minis include key technologies — such as more powerful phased array antennas and the use of uplink electronic bandwidth — that will allow Starlink to provide up to 4 times more capacity per satellite than previous iterations,” said SpaceX. via Twitter on Sunday (Opens in a new tab) (26 February).
The V2 minicar also contains Argonne Hall thrusters, which have never before been used by extraterrestrials. SpaceX said in Another tweet on Sunday (Opens in a new tab).
SpaceX is now launched More than 4,000 Starlink satellites (Opens in a new tab) For worldwide internet service, and more satellites to come: The company has regulatory permission to send up to 12,000 Starlink vehicles and has applied for approval to deploy nearly 30,000 satellites on top of that.
Monday’s Starlink launch was originally supposed to be part of a trio, along with NASA’s Crew-6 astronaut mission, which was scheduled to lift off early Monday morning, and another Starlink launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base. in California on a Monday afternoon. .
But Crew-6’s planned takeoff is canceled due to a ground system problem late in the countdown. The next possible Crew-6 launch opportunity is Thursday (March 2) at 12:34 AM EST (0534 GMT).
The Vandenberg mission, which will orbit 51 older-generation Starlink satellites, has been delayed by bad weather. It could be launched as soon as Tuesday (28 February).
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2 p.m. EST on February 27 to reflect SpaceX launch time changes for the Starlink missions and the Crew-6 astronaut flight. It was updated again at 6:40 PM EST with news of the successful launch and rocket landing.
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller (Opens in a new tab)? (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @tweet (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @tweet (Opens in a new tab) or Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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