SpaceX's first launch in 2022, orbiting 49 Starlink satellites

SpaceX's first launch in 2022, orbiting 49 Starlink satellites

After 31 successful missions in 2021, SpaceX began a new year of launches from Starlink yesterday, 6 January, from Starlink, which left the 39A site of the Kennedy Space Center at 00:49. 49 Starlink satellites were on board Falcon 9, bringing the number of satellites that reached Earth orbit to 1991. Now, if SpaceX can maintain the pace of the last year, it can launch 40 launches. Five of these launches are planned to be carried out by the Falcon Heavy, the heavy launch vehicle of the company, which is currently the most powerful rocket in the world.

SpaceX completed 2021 with approximately 150,000 active users of satellite communications. During the launch of SpaceX, it was announced that there were now more than 145,000 active users. In addition, Starlink also left beta phase and became a fully active service in October. However, satellite communications had not yet achieved optimal productivity, as a large number of satellites were still needed for adequate stability. In fact, the first phase involved 4,408 satellites in orbit, while there were currently 1,842 satellites around the Earth, of which 1,468 were in operational condition. However, to their surprise, SpaceX had sent a new version of the plate, which was more productive and smaller in size.

By 2021, Starlink had become an active service in more than 20 countries, but there was one country where it was still struggling to obtain permits, India, where in November the Telecommunications Department had prevented citizens from signing contracts for the use of Starlink. The Indian government had not yet issued spaceX permits for the use of telecommunications services, and it was not known whether and when such permits would be issued.

This could be a political advance in favour of the Indian company Bharti Airtel, which invested in OneWeb, Starlink's main rival. Early in the year, SpaceX was forced to pay compensation to 5,000 or so users who had paid an initial amount of $99 to obtain the kit. This is a heavy blow for Mask, who expected to have 2,000 active users in India alone by the end of 2022.

In order to orbit the second stage with 49 Starlinks, SpaceX used the Falcon 9 B1062, which had previously supported three missions. Thus, the launch, called Starlink 4.5, was its fourth mission. The missile had already completed two missions to launch two third-generation GPS satellites: SV04, launched on 6 November 2020, and SV05, launched on 17 June 2021. It was subsequently used for the historic mission Inspiration4, during which four astronauts reached Earth orbit on 16 September.

The characteristics of the Starlink-4.5 mission are very different from what we saw in the past. The target orbit of satellites has an inclination of 52.3°, so the Falcon 9 launcher did not leave Florida in the north-east direction as usual. This time it was moving south-east. The company did not comment on the decision to change the characterization of the mission. The most likely hypothesis concerns the launcher's entrance to the atmosphere. B1062 landed on the barge A Shortfall of Gravitas, 637 km near the Nassau coast. Here the water should be calmer than the normal location chosen in the Atlantic Ocean to accommodate the barge. In fact, it appears that it was the storm sea of SpaceX that risked losing Falcon 9 during its last mission in 2021, CRS-24.

The launch vehicle, which had never flown before, returned to the port with heels and damaged engines. The robot Octagrabber, which was responsible for securing the first stage to the barge, was also damaged. It may have been caused during the anchoring of the wave by the barge, resulting in the risk of being overboard. As a result of this small incident, SpaceX had to carry out some repairs on the Just Red The Instruments and its Octabber. This may take time to force the company to use only one barge in Florida and thereby slow the pace of missions.