Next launch of SpaceX to deploy fewer Starlink satellites to higher orbit – Spaceflight Now

Starlink satellite stack photo file before pre-launch. Credit: SpaceX

The Falcon 9 rocket will launch the next batch of SpaceX Starlink satellites on Monday into a higher, more circular orbit than recent flights, reducing the potential risks of a solar storm similar to the one that destroyed at least 38 Starlink ships earlier this month.

SpaceX is set to launch its seventh mission in just over seven weeks on Monday, and the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled for 9:44 a.m. EST (14:44 GMT) from Site 40 at the Space Forces station at Cape Canaveral. SpaceX has two more Falcon 9 rockets that are scheduled to launch in the next 10 days from various launch pads in Florida and California.

On Monday in the fairing fairing Falcon 9 is a stack of 46 satellites in a flat package, each weighing about a quarter of a ton. SpaceX rolled a Falcon 9 rocket out of the hangar to Site 40 and then raised a 229-foot (70-meter) launcher last weekend.

The payload of 46 satellites is lower compared to the 49 Starlink spacecraft launched during recent flights. The change apparently compensates for the greater height of the mission’s target orbit.

According to the 45th Meteorological Squadron of the U.S. Space Forces at Cape Canaveral, the probability of favorable weather for launch on Monday is 90%. Weather forecasters predict mostly sunny skies, east winds of 10 to 15 miles per hour and temperatures of around 72 degrees Fahrenheit at launch.

SpaceX has postponed its mission until Sunday to wait for better weather conditions in the sea landing zone near the Bahamas. The drone ship, Gravitas Lack, is in a position about 400 miles (650 kilometers) southeast of Cape Canaveral to land a first-stage launch vehicle about nine minutes after takeoff.

The accelerator is designated B1058 in the SpaceX inventory of the multiple stages of the Falcon rocket. It will make its 11th flight on Monday after its debut on May 30, 2020 with the launch of NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Benken in the first SpaceX crew mission.

Falcon 9 will head southeast of Cape Canaveral to bring Starlink satellites into orbit with an inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator. SpaceX began launching Starlink satellites on routes southeast of Florida last month. The company said it would launch more Starlink missions to the southeast during the winter months to take advantage of the best chances for good weather in the first phase landing area.

Previous Starlink missions have been launched northeast with overclocking landings in the Atlantic Ocean east of South Carolina. The launch to the southeast requires the Falcon 9 rocket to fly around the Bahamas, reducing the number of current-generation Starlink satellites the rocket can carry from 52 to 49.

The term of the mission, published by SpaceX, indicates that the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket will start the engine twice before the deployment of Starlink satellites. Recent SpaceX Starlink missions used a single second-degree engine burn. This change reduces the number of Starlink satellites carried by the Falcon 9 rocket from 49 to 46.

The second upper degree of burn will move Starlink satellites into an almost circular orbit by increasing the height of the perigee of the orbit or the lowest point. The target orbit for the mission on Monday will range from 202 miles to 209 miles (325 by 337 kilometers) in altitude.

A previous Starlink mission, launched on February 3, placed 49 satellites in a more oval or elliptical orbit with a perigee about 130 miles (210 kilometers) above Earth.

But a geomagnetic storm caused by a solar flare has destroyed at least 38 of these satellites. The solar flare sent an explosion of radiation into the solar system, causing the Earth’s atmosphere to heat up and swell, leading to greater atmospheric resistance that acted against satellites in low Earth orbit.

The 49 Starlink satellites, launched on February 3, were particularly at risk of a geomagnetic storm because they were flying so close to Earth, about half the height of the International Space Station.

SpaceX ground controllers have put the new Starlink satellites into safe mode, orienting them to fly the edge into the atmosphere to minimize resistance. But the resistance has still slowed the speed of the satellites enough to re-enter the atmosphere, where they were expected to burn up before hitting the Earth’s surface.

Solar flash photo file. Author: NASA / SDO

SpaceX typically deploys Starlink satellites in low orbits so they can quickly fall into the atmosphere in the event of a failure, ensuring they don’t become space debris. Once SpaceX confirms that the satellite is operational, the teams send teams to begin ascending into orbit into the Starlink network using ion engines.

Officials expected up to 40 satellites launched on February 3 to re-enter the atmosphere after the geomagnetic storm. SpaceX eventually lost 38 of the 49 new spacecraft, and the remaining 11 are now raising their orbit.

There is also another advantage of launching into low orbit. The Falcon 9 rocket can drag more Starlink spacecraft in one mission if it is aimed at a lower altitude.

SpaceX has launched 2,091 Starlink spacecraft since 2018, including prototypes. More than 200 satellites have fallen out of orbit after failure or decommissioning, according to a table by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist and space tracking expert.

The McDowell chart shows that more than 1,500 Starlink satellites are currently operating and providing Internet services. SpaceX does not regularly publish details about the number of satellites in its active group.

SpaceX is deploying about 4,400 Starlink satellites in five orbital “shells” at several different altitudes and at different inclinations or angles to the equator, which is enough to provide a global Internet connection. The company’s latest launches, including the mission on Monday, were aimed at an orbital projectile at an incline of 53.2 degrees and an altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers).

The company plans to eventually launch up to 42,000 Starlink satellites to expand Internet reach, an ambitious goal that could help launch missions using the next-generation SpaceX heavy-duty Starship rocket.

SpaceX has two more Starlink missions scheduled to launch in the next 10 days, and other Falcon 9 rockets are scheduled to take off from California and Florida on February 25 and March 3.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1. Next launch of SpaceX to deploy fewer Starlink satellites to higher orbit – Spaceflight Now

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