SpaceX Finally Meets a Launch Goal as Sixtieth Orbital Mission of 2022 Takes Flight

Falcon 9 launching earlier today.

Falcon 9 launching earlier as we speak.
Photo: SpaceX

With solely a small handful of days left within the yr, SpaceX achieved a serious milestone by pulling off its Sixtieth orbital launch of the yr—a aim that CEO Elon Musk had been concentrating on for the area firm. 

A Falcon 9 rocket launched throughout the early hours of Wednesday morning, lifting off at 4:34 a.m. ET from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The rocket carried 54 Starlink satellites, which can have been the primary batch of SpaceX’s subsequent era satellites beneath a newly acquired license.

This may truly be the primary time SpaceX has met considered one of its publicly introduced objectives, or at the least a aim having to do with its anticipated frequency of rocket launches. As spaceflight reporter Eric Ralph of Teslarati points out, it’s the “first time the company has fully hit a public cadence target set by one of its executives.” Earlier within the yr, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that his firm was aiming for 60 orbital launches in 2022. We’ve discovered to not take his public decrees too severely because the billionaire usually units unrealistic expectations for his personal area enterprise, such because the timing of the first Starship rocket launch, which hasn’t but occurred.

Thanks largely to its workhorse rocket, nevertheless, SpaceX did reside as much as Musk’s promise of delivering 60 orbital launches earlier than the yr was over. Indeed, all however considered one of these launches was carried out with Falcon 9s, the lone mission being the launch of the not often used Falcon Heavy. As for Starship, it gained’t fly this month as Musk had claimed, although a launch in 2023 does appears seemingly.

The newest launch put the full variety of Starlink satellites in orbit at 3,374, of which 3,335 are operational, in accordance with stats collected by astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell.

Wednesday’s launch carried a particular payload, or at the least we predict it did. We’re not totally certain owing to SpaceX’s hazy description of the mission. SpaceX’s Starlink Group 5-1 mission “marked the first of Starlink’s upgraded network,” the corporate wrote on its web site. “Under our new license, we are now able to deploy satellites to new orbits that will add even more capacity to the network,” SpaceX added. “Ultimately, this enables us to add more customers and provide faster service—particularly in areas that are currently over-subscribed.” The “group 5-1″ designation suggests this is the fifth shell, or group, of Starlink satellites.

Earlier this month, SpaceX filed a request with the Federal Communications Commission to grant it a 60-day special temporary authority to connect Starlink terminals already in use to the next generation satellites it’s aiming to launch. In the regulatory filing, SpaceX stated its desire to start launching its Gen2 Starlinks in December 2022. In early December, the FCC approved the launch of 7,500 second-generation Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit, while deferring its decision on the remaining 22,488 satellites that SpaceX is hoping to launch.

The next generation of Starlink satellite, known as Gen2, will be larger and more powerful than its predecessor, allowing the company to meet the increasing demand for its space-based internet service. SpaceX is planning to use Starship rockets to deliver the large Gen2s to orbit, but, as the rocket is not yet ready, it said Falcon 9s would deliver a compact version of the Gen2s. Again, it’s not clear which version reached space earlier today, but what is clear is that the units conformed to the Gen1 form factor.

Regardless, SpaceX has had fairly the yr and the corporate’s founder is aiming even larger. In 2021, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket a comparatively measly 31 instances and one yr later it practically doubled that whole. Musk beforehand stated that he’s aiming for 100 launches in 2023. We’ll see how properly the subsequent yr goes for the personal firm, which is already miles forward of its competitors within the personal area trade.

More: The Potential for Larger—and Brighter—Starlink Satellites Has Astronomers Worried

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