On Wednesday, SpaceX launched 22 Starlink satellites to low earth orbit (LOE). The Falcon 9 rocket launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 11:36 p.m. EDT.
Starlink Deploys 43 Satellites in Back-to-Back Launches
The rocket’s first-stage booster returned to Earth and successfully landed on SpaceX’s autonomous Barge A Shortfall of Gravitas about 8.5 minutes after liftoff. The drone ship was awaiting Flacon 9’s return in the Atlantic Ocean. This was the rocket’s 13th flight, as pointed out by the company in an official statement.
Meanwhile, the rocket’s upper stage continued its flight carrying the 22 Starlink satellites to the low Earth orbit. The spacecraft was deployed in LEO about 65 minutes after launch.
The launch was the Elon Musk-led firm’s 56th of the year and 255th overall. It was also the first of planned back-to-back Starlink missions, with a different Falcon 9 sending another 21 satellites from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California just seven hours later.
Starlink, operated by SpaceX, is the world’s first and largest satellite constellation that delivers broadband internet across the globe from the low Earth orbit. The service is capable of supporting streaming, online gaming, video calls, and much more.
According to the FCC, Starlink can reach broadband speeds and deliver internet to rural regions where fiber is unavailable. The company launched its first Starlink in 2019.
The two launches and landings on Wednesday and Thursday were the Falcon 9’s 13th and 15th attempts. To date, SpaceX has deployed 4,940 Starlink satellites, of which, 4,556 are in entire operation, according to data provided by astrophysicist and satellite tracker Johnathan McDowell. The Starlink fleet is getting bigger with every launch.
SpaceX has received approval from the U.S. government to deploy 12,000 Starlink satellites in the coming weeks and months. Recently, Starlink applied for permission to launch 30,000 more of its constellation satellites to the LEO.
Growing Number of Starlinks a Major Safety Concern for Satellite Operations
The ever-growing fleet is not without its drawbacks. In the six months between December 2022, and May 2023, the broadband satellites were forced to swerve more than 25,000 times to avoid potentially dangerous collisions with other spacecraft and orbital debris.
That number is almost double the amount of avoidance maneuvers carried out by SpaceX in the previous six months that ran from June to November 2022.
Since its first launch, SpaceX satellites have been forced to change course over 50,000 times to prevent collisions.
Leading space experts are concerned with the harm these collision-avoiding maneuvers may cause. Hugh Lewis, professor of astronautics at the University of Southampton in the U.K, says that the number of swerves made by Starlink is following an exponential curve that has been doubling every six months.
The expert on the impact of mega-constellations on orbital safety explains that the growing trend would lead to concerns about the safety of satellite operations in the LEO, which may soon get out of hand.