A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has successfully launched 51 laser-linked Starlink satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) — the first mission of its kind outside the company’s launch facilities on the West Coast.
Known as Starlink Group 2-1, the mission has launched the operational design of the new Starlink V1.5 satellites with laser links that will eventually allow the constellation to direct its own communications almost anywhere on Earth – regardless of the locations of the ground stations. Aside from potentially allowing SpaceX to violate local regulations in countries with communications restrictions, firewalls, or repressive censorship, these lasers would also give Starlink the ability to seamlessly deliver internet to moving vehicles — including ocean-going planes — and even In remote places where there is no ground infrastructure for hundreds of miles.
Aside from its main objective, the Starlink 2-1 mission also saw SpaceX link up with a record of reusing the Falcon’s internal booster. Following in the footsteps of the B1051 smaller booster, the Falcon 9 B1049, which debuted in September 2018, has successfully completed the 10th orbital launch and landing using the Starlink 2-1. Originally scheduled to launch as early as July, it was clear that mass-producing hiccups of new Starlink V1.5 satellites and their laser links delayed the mission by nearly two months, causing SpaceX to launch only once in 11 weeks. before the task.
By comparison, the Falcon 9 B1051 debuted in March 2019 and became the first booster aircraft to cross the ten-flight mark in May 2021, just 26 months later. It took B1049 nearly 36 months to accomplish the same feat—about 40% slower but still faster than any of the four NASA space shuttles that have successfully reached similar milestones.
SpaceX also says that Starlink 2-1 is the 24th time the company has successfully launched its flight-proven Falcon 9 payload display, reusing a typically consumable component that CEO Elon Musk once likened to a $6 million cash platform. Ultimately, the company abandoned efforts to catch half-drops out of the air with giant ship-based nets, and instead refocused on mastering the reuse of fairings that land gently in the ocean. For the most part, this was accomplished by designing the Starlink satellites themselves to withstand a much dirtier and louder launch environment than most other spacecraft, allowing SpaceX to remove the foamy, sponge-like sound-deadening tiles typically found inside fairings and reduce the worry about the need to deep clean nosecones giant.
However, SpaceX has technically launched more than 150 commercial payloads – and one geostationary flagship (SXM-7) – over the course of three launches with flight-proven fairings, indicating a path to broader commercial acceptance of the new technology and direct cost savings. which it brings.
With the Starlink 2-1 safely in orbit, SpaceX will likely now operate more space-based laser links than the rest of the world combined. Ultimately, once there are enough satellites with laser links in orbit, SpaceX will be able to significantly expand Starlink coverage almost independently of creating new ground stations – an intensely bureaucratic process that has proven to lead to painfully slow progress in a number of 15+ Countries with active service. Instead of requiring the satellite with which a particular user party (dish) is communicating to be in direct line-of-sight of an earth station dish to route the user’s communications, and thus connect it to the Internet, a set of diffused lasers using the active dish will allow a satellite to transmit that communication over other satellites.
As a result, ground stations can be significantly further away from the users they end up supporting. Moreover, since SpaceX has no plans to stop building new ground stations despite the bureaucratic hell that could be involved, the well-connected Starlink constellation will eventually be able to get over Most wired communications use a laser to direct user communications to ground stations closest to the actual servers or services they are trying to access.
Stay tuned for updates on SpaceX’s upcoming Polar Launch with “Space Laser”.