SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Launches 53 Starlink Satellites

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink broadband satellites. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 53 Starlink broadband satellites equipped with crosslink laser communications systems into orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Saturday morning.

The laser communications systems will allow for faster transmission of data. SpaceX normally launches 60 Starlink satellites at a time, but the laser systems appear to make the satellites heavier.

It was the first Starlink launch since May. SpaceX has launched 1,791 Starlink satellites, with 1,666 in orbit and 1,643 currently functioning, according to Jonathan’s Space Report.

The Falcon 9’s first stage landed on an off-shore drone ship. It was the ninth launch and landing of this first stage, which previously launched Crew Demo-2, ANASIS-11, CRS-21, Transporter-1, and five Starlink missions.

Planned Comsat Constellations Now Exceed 94,000 Satellites

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A wave of new applications submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week for approval for communications satellites operating in the V band has sent the number of spacecraft in large constellations soaring to nearly 100,000.

A list compiled by Parabolic Arc shows that 94,255 satellites are included in the constellations. That number includes 29,439 satellites approved by the FCC or in development in China. The FCC has applicants pending before it for another 64,816 satellites.

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Astra Space Applies to Launch More than 13,000 Satellites; Proposed Broadband Constellations Exceed 79,000 Spacecraft

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Astra Space has applied to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the launch more than 13,000 communications satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO), joining SpaceX, OneWeb, Amazon and other companies seeking to provide broadband services across the globe. The application brings the number of proposed satellites in these constellations to more than 79,000.

“The Astra Constellation as proposed would ultimately consist of as many as 13,620 operational LEO satellites, supported by a global network of gateway earth stations utilizing the identified V-band frequency bands for feeder links for space-to-earth transmit and receive,” the company’s application said.

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SpaceX, Dish Network Engaged in Battle Over Frequency Use

Sixty Starlink satellites separate from a Falcon 9 second stage on April 22, 2020. (Credit: SpaceX website)

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating story about the fight between SpaceX and Dish Network over frequency allocation. While SpaceX is spending billions to deploying thousands of satellites for its global Starlink broadband network, Dish Network wants the Federal Communications Commission to allow it to send Internet signals via cell phone towers.

In later filings with the FCC, Mr. Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, told the regulator it needed those airwaves, which sit above 12 gigahertz on the wireless spectrum, free and clear for its Starlink swarm of satellites to beam high-speed broadband internet service to disconnected homes across the country. SpaceX didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.

The Tesla billionaire’s main antagonist in this case is Dish Network Corp. Chairman Charlie Ergen, another mogul with a history of tangling with regulators. Mr. Ergen’s Dish and his allies—who include Dell Computer founder Michael Dell through his personal investment fund, MSD Capital—are pressing the government to allow cellphone towers to send high-speed internet signals over the same airwaves. SpaceX and fellow satellite operator OneWeb oppose changes that they say threaten their goal of expanding internet access from the skies….

This is the kind of skirmish that companies often wage in Washington over finite resources subject to government rules—but with more-prominent personalities and a nastier edge than most telecom disputes. Fights over wireless spectrum are becoming increasingly common as technological advances like 5G let companies stream data in ways considered impossible a few years ago, spurring new demand for space on the airwaves to carry those signals.

SpaceX says its new Starlink broadband service is already providing cablelike internet speeds to more than 90,000 customers. The FCC granted the company $885 million in incentives to provide more connections to areas of the U.S. that lack true broadband. Dish and its allies argue that looser rules for the 12 GHz frequencies would help the company build a network that will connect smartphones, factory machines and vehicle sensors with the kind of ultrafast internet speeds that 5G promises to deliver.

The story says that Musk was adamant in a phone with the FCC’s then-Chairman Ajit Pai that the regulatory agency not open the frequency for Dish Network to provide services via cell phone towers due to the threat it posed to Starlink.

It will be interesting to see how this battle plays out here and abroad. The U.S. is likely not on the only country where this move is being considered.

SpaceX Satellite Signals Used Like GPS to Pinpoint Location on Earth

Sixty Starlink satellites separate from a Falcon 9 second stage on April 22, 2020. (Credit: SpaceX website)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ohio State University PR) — Engineering researchers have developed a method to use signals broadcast by Starlink internet service satellites to accurately locate a position here on Earth, much like GPS does. It is the first time the Starlink system has been harnessed by researchers outside SpaceX for navigation.

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SpaceX Launches 51 Laser-equipped Starlink Satellites From Vandenberg

Falcon 9 with 51 Starlink satellites aboard streaks across the sky over the Pacific Ocean. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with 51 Starlink advanced broadband satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Monday night. The booster launched at 8:55 p.m. PDT, streaking southward across the nighttime sky.

The Starlink satellites are the first to be equipped with laser links to speed communications for SpaceX’s broadband service.

The booster’s first stage, which flew for the 10th time, landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship in the Pacific Ocean. The stage had previously flown on the Telstar 18 VANTAGE, Iridium-8, and seven Starlink missions.

One half of Falcon 9’s fairing halves previously supported NROL-108 and the other previously flew on GPS III-3 and Turksat-5A.

Falcon 9 to Launch Starlink Satellites From Vandenberg Tonight

Credit: SpaceX

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (SpaceX PR) — SpaceX is targeting Monday, September 13 for a Falcon 9 launch of 51 Starlink satellites from Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The instantaneous window is at 8:55 p.m. PDT, or September 14 at 3:55 UTC, and a backup opportunity is available on Tuesday, September 14 at 8:56 p.m. PDT, or September 15 at 3:56 UTC.

The booster supporting this mission previously launched Telstar 18 VANTAGE, Iridium-8, and seven Starlink missions. Following stage separation, SpaceX will land Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which will be stationed in the Pacific Ocean. One half of Falcon 9’s fairing halves previously supported NROL-108 and the other previously flew on GPS III-3 and Turksat-5A.

A live webcast of this mission will begin about 15 minutes prior to liftoff.

FCC Plans to Better Scrutinize RDOF Funding After Free Press Investigation Exposed Questionable and Wasteful Subsidies

Former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

WASHINGTON (Free Press PR) — On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission announced its intention to authorize an initial round of more than $311 million in funding for new broadband deployments. The original series of federal subsidies, based on the lowest bids broadband providers submitted in the auction phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), came under heavy scrutiny after Free Press published a six-part investigation. The Free Press reports included exposés of several questionable applicants that sought to bring connectivity to unoccupied parking lots, storage tanks and traffic islands, as well as urban areas that other providers already served.

In response, the FCC has sent letters to 197 winning bidders from 2020, giving each the opportunity to withdraw its funding requests should the money be applied to building out broadband to places already served or “where significant questions of waste have been raised.”

Among recipients of these letters is Elon Musk’s Starlink, the satellite-internet company that won RDOF awards nationwide, including in many densely populated urban areas. The FCC has also denied all funding for AB Indiana, and rejected LTD Broadband’s application to serve in California, Kansas and Oklahoma — representing more than $271 million of the $1.3 billion awarded to the company — due to a failure to secure necessary state-level certifications in a timely fashion.

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Launch 2020: U.S. Reclaimed Top Spot, Flew Astronauts Again from American Soil

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The United States reclaimed the top spot in launches from China last year as NASA astronauts flew into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly nine years, SpaceX deployed the world’s first satellite mega-constellation with reused rockets, and two new launchers debuted with less than stellar results.

American companies conducted 44 launches in 2020, with 40 successes and four failures. Bryce Tech reports that U.S. companies accounted for 32 of the 41 commercial launches conducted last year. The majority of those flights were conducted by SpaceX, which launched 25 orbital missions.

China came in second with a record of 35 successful launches and four failures. The 39 launch attempts tied that nation’s previous record for flights during a calendar year.

Let’s take a closer look at what U.S. companies achieved last year.

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Launch 2020: A Busy Year Filled with Firsts in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

SpaceX dominated, China surged and Russia had another clean sheet as American astronauts flew from U.S. soil again in a year of firsts.

First in a series

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a very busy launch year with a number of firsts in both human and robotic exploration. A total of 114 orbital launches were attempted, with 104 successes and 10 failures. It was the same number of launches that were conducted in 2018, with that year seeing 111 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

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Tyvak, a Terran Orbital Company, Announces Successful Commissioning of Tyvak-0130 Satellite in Partnership with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Composite false-color image of the Andromeda galaxy created by stacking 12 Medium FOV channel images for a total exposure of 19.2 seconds. This image demonstrates the exceptional stability obtained by the Tyvak-0130 satellite. (Credit: Tyvak)

IRVINE, Calif., June 17, 2021 (Tyvak PR) — Tyvak, a Terran Orbital Company is pleased to announce the successful completion of in-orbit system checkout and commissioning of its Tyvak-0130 satellite. These necessary check points begin soon after launch and focus primarily on testing the satellite’s essential systems and protocols. Tyvak-0130 was launched as a rideshare on SpaceX Starlink L-26 on May 15, 2021 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and has already transmitted over 4,000 pictures back to earth.

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Fun with Figures: Move Over Starlink, Here Comes China’s Satellite Mega-Constellation

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Chinese government recently formed a company to develop a satellite mega-constellation that would exceed SpaceX’s rival Starlink communications network in size, according to media reports.

The newly created China Satellite Network Group Co. will oversee the development of a communications satellite constellation that will include 12,992 satellites. China has filed for spectrum allocation for the constellation with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The Chinese constellation would be the largest in the world with 1,049 more satellites than the 11,943 Starlink satellites approved by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Together, the Chinese and Starlink satellites would place 24,935 satellites into Earth orbit.

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SpaceX Launches 60 Starlink Satellites from Florida

Falcon 9 lifts off with 60 Starlink satellites. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — On Wednesday, May 26 at 2:59 p.m. EDT, SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

This was the second launch and landing of this Falcon 9 first stage booster, which previously launched the Sentinel-6A mission.

SpaceX Targets Launch of Starlink Satellites for Wednesday Afternoon

Credit: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — SpaceX is targeting Wednesday, May 26 for the next Falcon 9 launch of 60 Starlink satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The instantaneous window is at 2:59 p.m. EDT, or 18:59 UTC, and a backup opportunity is available on Thursday, May 27 at 2:38 p.m. EDT, or 18:38 UTC.

Falcon 9’s first stage booster previously supported the Sentinel-6A mission. Following stage separation, SpaceX will land Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, which will be located in the Atlantic Ocean. One half of Falcon 9’s fairing previously supported four Starlink missions, and the other previously supported a Starlink mission and the Transporter-1 mission.

You can watch the launch webcast live starting about 15 minutes before liftoff. To see if Starlink is available in your area, visit starlink.com.

SpaceX Launches 52 Starlink Satellites, 2 Secondary Payloads

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches 52 Starlink satellites on May 15, 2021. (Credit: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — On Saturday, May 15 at 6:56 p.m. EDT, SpaceX launched 52 Starlink satellites, a Capella Space Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite, and Tyvak-0130 from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This was the eighth launch and landing of this Falcon 9 first stage booster, which previously launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station, ANASIS-II, CRS-21, Transporter-1, and three Starlink missions.