Elon Musk's SpaceX is gearing up for a momentous trip on Wednesday when the firm launches four civilians into space on the Inspiration4 mission. But another Falcon 9 launch on Monday evening started Starlink satellite broadband network's next development phase.
Since June 30, SpaceX hasn't launched any additional Starlink flying routers. Two months is an unusually long break for a program that has had near-weekly launches in the past to build up its embryonic fleet of satellites in low-Earth orbit aimed at beaming high-speed internet access throughout the world.
SpaceX Starlink Launched
A Falcon 9 equipped with 51 next-generation Starlinks launched on Monday at 8:55 pm PT (11:55 pm ET).
The utilized first-stage booster has completed nine flights, including seven Starlink missions. This rocket's tenth flight will tie the company's current record for booster recycling.
SpaceNews said the Falcon 9 launched from Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex 4-East. It travelled south-southeast across the Pacific Ocean, paralleling the coast of Baja California to reach an orbit 70 degrees above the equator.
"Of Course I Still Love You," one of SpaceX's rocket landing platforms, is expected to catch Falcon 9's first stage booster. The booster for this flight is called B1049, Space.com said, and made its 10th trip to orbit, tying a record for SpaceX's most-flown rocket.
SpaceX Launched More Than 1,700 Starlink Satellites to Date
SpaceX has launched over 1,700 Starlinks to date, with hundreds more anticipated in the coming years. It exceeded the company's initial limit of 1,440 satellites by a significant margin. Thousands more, though, have received formal clearance from the corporation, Science Times mentioned.
So far, SpaceX has deployed over 100,000 Starlink internet terminals, and the service has been authorized in at least 14 countries, with applications in many more pending.
The halt in Starlink deployment allowed the next batch of satellites to be fitted with laser connections that allow them to speak with each other in orbit, SpaceNews said, citing SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell.
The laser crosslinks, which have long been promoted as part of SpaceX's Starlink strategy, allow the network to function with fewer ground stations while simultaneously reducing latency by allowing data to be routed across the constellation without having to make lengthier "hops" between the ground and orbit.
To minimize the requirement for ground stations near the poles, ten satellites with laser connections were launched into polar orbit in January. This tiny batch was the first to be equipped with the technology, but SpaceX believes that after Monday's launch, all Starlink satellites deployed in the future will include laser crosslinks.
The mission also serves as a sort of homecoming for Starlink since it is the first launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California since the project's initial two test satellites, known as Tintin A and B (per NASA), launched on Feb. 22, 2018.
RELATED ARTICLE: How to Set Up Starlink Internet Service at Home