SpaceX aces 60th orbital launch of 2022

SpaceX aces 60th orbital launch of 2022

SpaceX has completed its 60th orbital launch of 2022, marking the first time the company has fully hit a public target set by one of its executives.

By any measure possible, 2022 has been a groundbreaking year for SpaceX, even when considering the long list of accomplishments it has accumulated over the past half-decade. It owns and operates the largest satellite constellation in history by an order of magnitude. Its Starlink satellite Internet service has secured more than a million subscribers less than two years after entering beta. It operates the only reusable orbital-class rockets and orbital spacecraft currently in service. Its workhorse Falcon 9 has launched more in a year than any other single rocket in history. It is being launched regularly at a rate that has not been sustained by any country – let alone a single company – in 40 years. It is managing that near-historic cadence while simultaneously recovering and reusing the boosters and fairings that represent about 70% of the value of nearly every missile it launches.

And now, SpaceX can also proudly point out that it was able to hit a launch cadence target that seemed too ambitious when CEO Elon Musk first shared it nine months ago.

The SpaceX Falcon team 🚀 is making great progress – aiming for 60 launches this year!

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 28, 2022

Exactly nine months later, SpaceX has just completed its 60th launch of 2022. 69 days after its last orbital-class launch, the Falcon 9 booster lifted off for the 11th time with a somewhat mysterious array of 54 satellites Starlink. Just under nine minutes after liftoff, B1062 touched down 660 kilometers (410 mi) on a SpaceX A Shortfall Of Gravitas (ASOG) drone ship. Seconds earlier, the Falcon 9’s spent upper stage reached orbit, shut down its single Merlin vacuum engine, and began to slowly rotate downward.

Nineteen minutes after liftoff, the stack of 54 Starlink satellites instantly launched, slowly spreading like a shuffled deck of cards. Over the coming hours, days, and weeks, those satellites will naturally deploy, deploy solar arrays, stabilize their attitudes, test their payloads, and begin climbing toward an operational orbit somewhere between 480 and 580 kilometers (300-360 mi) above the Earth’s surface.

As previously discussed, SpaceX’s so-called “Starlink 5-1” mission raises a number of questions that the company’s webcast and communications unfortunately failed to answer. First of all, the name “5-1″ is meaningless. The only information that SpaceX revealed about the mission is that it is “the first [launch] of Starlink’s upgraded network…under [a] new license,” implying—but not actually confirming—that “Starlink 5-1” is the first release for the Starlink Gen2 constellation.

The targeted launch orbit matches only one of the Gen2 ‘shells’ that the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently approved. Using a naming scheme that has been consistent for a year and a half, “5-1” signifies that the mission is the first launch of the fifth Starlink Gen1 ‘shell’ or cluster, which orbit it was actually launched to explicitly makes it impossible. It’s very strange that SpaceX didn’t explicitly call the mission what it really is: the first launch of an all-new Starlink Gen2 constellation. The name ultimately doesn’t matter much, but it’s now likely to create confusion given that SpaceX’s Starlink Gen1 constellation has a fifth rocket that could begin launching in the near future.

Additionally, outside of a single unknown FCC filing filed two months ago, it has long been said and implied that the main advantage of the Starlink Gen2 constellation over Gen1 was the much larger size of the Gen2/V2 satellites. But the satellites launched on Starlink 5-1 appear to be virtually identical to all of the recent Starlink V1.5 satellites, which CEO Elon Musk once suggested were so inefficient that they could put SpaceX at risk of bankruptcy in November 2021.

A limited view of the Starlink 3-4 and “5-1” satellites suggests that they are virtually identical. (SpaceX)

There is an obvious explanation for why SpaceX would launch regular Starlink V1.5 satellites instead of the larger V2 variants that are supposed to make the Internet constellation more financially viable: a desire to add new customers as quickly as possible as possible, regardless of relative cost. . While a much smaller V1.5 satellite would likely offer about 3-8 times less usable bandwidth than one of the larger V2 variants that SpaceX is developing, it may still be true that a V1 satellite. 5 is better than nothing, while the larger V2 satellites are stuck. behind development delays or waiting for SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket.

SpaceX will almost certainly want to replace any V1.5 satellites with V2 satellites when the opportunity arises, but in the meantime, the V1.5 satellites launched as part of the Gen2 constellation could technically allow SpaceX to temporarily double the amount of bandwidth available where most people (and Starlink customers) live. Ultimately, this means it makes a lot of sense for SpaceX to prioritize Gen2 launches. It doesn’t look like SpaceX will go that far, but the Starlink Gen1 constellation is far enough away that the company could easily move away from the constellation as is and prioritize Gen2 Falcon 9 launches for all of 2023 without risking a penalty from the FCC . SpaceX simply needs to complete its Gen1 Constellation before April 2027 to avoid breaking these rules.

Instead, it appears that SpaceX will roughly split its V1.5 satellite launch and production capacity between Starlink Gen1 and Gen2 moving forward. This will allow SpaceX to significantly expand the bandwidth where most customers live, while also completing the polar-orbiting Gen1 shells that will allow the older constellation to better serve maritime and commercial subscribers. aviation and reach Starlink’s most distant customers.

SpaceX achieves 60th orbital launch in 2022

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