SpaceX launches yet another Starlink batch, the G4-23

Record payload for the company's satellite internet constellation system

Starlink G4-23 launch, Photo Credit: Ben Cooper

The Falcon 9 v1.2 FT Block 5 “Booster number B1069.2” carrying 54 Starlink satellites took off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Saturday, August 27, 2022 at 11:41 pm EDT (0341 GMT on August 28). The liftoff took place about 80 minutes later than planned, as SpaceX expected the bad weather to pass. Just under nine minutes after launch, the rocket's first stage ('core') returned to Earth for a landing on the drone ferry A Shortfall of Gravitas., which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida, east of Charleston, South Carolina. Weather conditions were questionable on Saturday night, with thunder and lightning in the launch site area. SpaceX delayed the launch opportunity at 22:22 EDT (0222 GMT) due to the storms, but the weather improved to the second of the two available times on Saturday. The rocket had a liftoff mass of 568,478 kg, with the stack of fifty-four satellites weighing 16,578 kg.

Fifteen minutes after liftoff, the upper stage carrying “Starlink 4-23” stack into an initial orbit of 232 by 336 kilometers. The launcher aimed for an orbital inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator. With the Starlink 4-23 mission, the company has now launched 3,162 satellites, including prototypes and test units that are no longer in service. The launch was SpaceX's 57th mission primarily dedicated to putting the Starlinks into orbit.

First stage B1069 completed its second flight after sustaining damage while recovering on the ferry on December 21 following its first mission, which sent a Cargo Dragon cargo craft towards the International Space Station. The difficult recovery damaged the engines and landing legs, causing the rocket to tip over as it returned aboard the drone ship to Port Canaveral. The damage forced SpaceX and NASA to switch to a reserve 'core' for the launch of four astronauts to the space station in April. This release was originally supposed to use the B1069, which was restyled with new engines and other components.

Today's launch, SpaceX's 38th of the year and 50th Orbital spaceflight from the United States, set a record for the heaviest payload ever launched by a Falcon 9 rocket and came days after SpaceX and T-Mobile unveiled plans to use a new generation of satellites to provide “ubiquitous” connectivity to existing cell phones. The second-generation satellites will be much larger than the current design and will be launched on the new Starship rocket ship currently under development.


The addition of one more satellite – each Starlink weighs more than 300 kg – suggests that SpaceX has slightly improved the rocket's payload capacity, and the satellites on Saturday night's flight added up to the heaviest payload ever launched in an orbital plane with more than 16,700 kg.


The launch took place about 33 hours before the launch of the SLS lunar rocket with the Artemis I mission in the vicinity of the Kennedy Space Center. The rocket is on platform 39B, about 8 kilometers north of the Falcon 9 launch site on platform 40.


New Satellite Version

Photo Credit: Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo for Tesmanian.com

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, joined T-Mobile Chief Executive Mike Sievert for the announcement at the SpaceX Starship launch pad in South Texas. The satellite's new design, called Starlink V2, measures about 7 meters across. It will host similar Ku-band, Ka-band and laser communications antennas flying on current generation Starlink satellites, but will add an extendable cellular spectrum antenna measuring approximately 25 square meters. This antenna will be sensitive to receive weak signals from existing cell phones. SpaceX and T-Mobile want to have Starlink V2 up and running by the end of 2023 to begin beta testing. The Starship launch vehicle that SpaceX wants to use for launches from Starlink V2 satellites has not yet entered orbit.


“It's like putting a cell tower in the sky, only much harder, which is why we're here with the world experts at SpaceX because we're using a piece of spectrum that your phone already knows...,” Sievert said. “Actually, the vast majority of phones out there, our aspiration is that they work from the ground up with this.” According to Musk, the Starlink V2 network will transmit around 2 to 4 megabits of bandwidth to be shared between users within a given region, or cell zone. This is enough to allow for text messages, images, voice calls, and in some cases, video streaming.


Until now, SpaceX has focused on residential customers for the network, with a phased array antenna, Phased Array, pointing into the sky making a radio connection with satellites passing overhead. SpaceX recently received regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to provide service through antenna terminals mounted on cars, trailers, ships and planes. Now, it is entering the market to support cell phone services. "This won't have the kind of bandwidth that a Starlink endpoint will have," Musk said, "but it could eventually eliminate dead zones in cellular connectivity." “This is a pretty tough technical challenge, but we're working in the lab and we're confident it will work,” Musk said. “We actually have a lot of hardware and also a lot of extra software on the satellite.”


Sievert praised the importance of satellite cell phone connectivity for public safety, emergency responders and people who live or travel in rural areas without traditional cell phone service. He said it will initially roll out to the continental United States, Hawaii, large areas of Alaska, Puerto Rico and US territorial waters, and will be available at no additional cost on T-Mobile's most popular cell phone plans.


Musk said SpaceX is looking for an "interim solution" to develop a smaller version of the Starlink V2 that can fit on a Falcon 9 rocket "if the Starship program is delayed longer than expected." The Starlink V2's basic design is big for a Falcon 9 launch.


LAUNCH TIMELINE:

T+00:00: Takeoff

T+01:12: Maximum air pressure (Max-Q)

T+02:28: First stage main engine cut-off (MECO)

T+02:32: Stage Separation

T+02: 38: Second stage engine ignition

T+02:43: Fairing ejection

T+06:46: First stage re-entry ignition (with three engines)

T+07:07: First stage re-entry ignition cut-off

T+ 08:28: First stage landing ignition (one engine, the central one)

T+08:40: Second stage engine cut-out (SECO 1)

T+08:49: First stage landing on drone ferry

T+15 :21: Separation of the satellites


Mission stats:

172nd launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010

180th launch of the Falcon rocket family since 2006

2nd launch of Falcon 9 'booster' B1069

148th launch of Falcon 9 from Florida Space Coast

95th launch of Falcon 9 from Platform 40

150th launch overall from platform 40

114th flight of a reused Falcon 9 booster

57th dedicated Falcon 9 launch with Starlink satellites

38th Falcon 9 launch 2022

38th SpaceX launch 2022

37th orbital launch attempt based at Cape Canaveral in 2022

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