The launch of a new batch of Starlink satellites by a SpaceX Falcon 9 on December 18 set a new reusability record for the vehicle. At 7:41 a.m. Eastern, the Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Space Launch Complex 4E situated at the Vandenberg Space Force Base facility in California. After roughly 16 minutes, the rocket’s upper stage released a cargo of 52 satellites into mid-inclination orbit.
About 8.5 minutes after the liftoff, rocket’s very first stage was able to land on the droneship “Of Course I Still Love You.” The booster flew for the eleventh time, a SpaceX record. In March 2019, the stage deployed Radarsat Constellation Mission, the SMX-7 radio satellite, as well as seven sets of the Starlink satellites for Demo-1 commercial crew demonstration mission.
SpaceX has launched about 1,950 Starlink satellites with this mission, with about 1,800 in orbit. Starlink satellites were the primary cargo on 17 of SpaceX’s 29 Falcon 9 missions this year, a new high for the business. SpaceX is continuing to grow the Starlink constellation as well as its customer base. Jonathan Hofeller, who works as the vice president in charge of the Starlink as well as commercial sales at SpaceX, stated the business had over 100,000 enterprise and consumer customers thus far during Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week. He explained, “We’re just getting warmed up.”
Starlink now has a presence in 20 countries. “There is probably a couple dozen more in the works,” he said, citing attempts by SpaceX’s dedicated market access team. The capacity to deliver “multi-orbit” solutions, integrating geostationary orbit communications satellites alongside low or even medium Earth orbit constellations, was a key issue during the conference. Multi-orbit systems, according to proponents, combine the benefits of both geostationary as well as non-geostationary systems, with the GEO systems offering more capacity in selected regions, such as cities, and NGSO systems delivering low-latency services where they are needed.
SpaceX, according to Hofeller, is not looking to provide Starlink as a portion of a multi-orbit solution in collaboration with a GEO operator. He remarked, “We’re open to examining where LEO combined with GEO makes sense, and we’ll continue to be open. We haven’t quite figured out what the ideal option is yet.”
He went on to say, “I challenge the conventional wisdom that the value of GEO is its high density in specific regions.” “There’s no explanation why LEO can’t be a high-density, hand-bandwidth system in densely populated places.” If offered the option between a more sophisticated hybrid solution and one that can offer low latency and high speed all of the time while meeting their speed and bandwidth demands,” he said.
This necessitates a significant amount of capacity, which SpaceX is aiming to supply, according to Hofeller. “It’s a completely different strategy from past constellations, where we’re simply piling up a huge amount of capability on orbit and figuring out how to best use it.”