SpaceX conducted its first launch of 2024 on January 14, sending 23 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 7:49 PM EST after several delays due to weather and scheduling conflicts.
The Falcon 9 rocket performed flawlessly, delivering the Starlink satellites into the intended 290 km orbit. Approximately 9 minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first stage returned to Earth, landing on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.
This was the 13th launch for the Falcon 9 first stage booster supporting this mission, demonstrating SpaceX’s reusable rocket technology. It marked the 300th overall Falcon rocket launch since SpaceX was founded in 2002.
Starlink Mission Details
The 23 satellites will join SpaceX’s existing constellation of over 3,000 Starlink satellites already in orbit. Starlink aims to provide high-speed, low-latency internet access to users around the globe.
This was the 6th launch of 2024 dedicated to expanding Starlink coverage and capacity. SpaceX has regulatory approval for up to 12,000 Starlink satellites and will likely need over 10,000 to meet its full global connectivity plans.
Starlink Launch Statistics for 2024
|Number of Satellites
|Cape Canaveral Space Force Station
|Vandenberg Space Force Base
The satellites from this mission were deployed into a lower 290 km orbit compared to recent 335 km deployment altitudes. The lower orbit enables the satellites to begin providing internet coverage sooner after launch.
Busy Launch Schedule for SpaceX
This launch marked SpaceX’s second launch in 2024 from Florida, following a Falcon 9 mission on January 1 that sent 114 satellites into space for various customers. It was their third launch overall this year, including a mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base on January 5.
The rapid launch cadence looks to continue, with SpaceX gearing up for several more Starlink missions in the coming weeks both from Florida and California launch sites.
They also have an upcoming historic private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. The AX-3 mission, planned for January 18, will send former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria along with 3 businessmen to the station for 8 days.
Addressing Concerns Over Space Junk
With SpaceX continuing to launch hundreds more satellites into an increasingly crowded low Earth orbit environment, concerns have been raised over the proliferation of space debris. SpaceX says they are taking steps to mitigate risks, including equipping their satellites with onboard propulsion to quickly de-orbit at the end of their lifespan.
95% of each Starlink satellite burns up in the atmosphere upon re-entry. SpaceX also claims their satellites have industry-leading demise mitigation reliability, minimizing chances of collisions creating dangerous orbital debris.
Nevertheless, astronomers have cited impacts to ground-based astronomical observations from large flocks of visible satellites passing overhead soon after launch. Ongoing efforts to find solutions balancing connectivity needs with preservation of dark skies are still underway.
SpaceX will continue expanding and enhancing its Starlink network throughout 2024. They have plans for additional launches approximately every 2 weeks to help build network capacity.
The company will also press forward on several other ambitious programs, including the Starship/Super Heavy next generation fully reusable rocket system and the Starlink Version 2 satellites with larger antennas and other upgrades.
2024 is shaping up to be SpaceX’s busiest year yet as they accelerate the launch pace even further and continue making strides towards enabling the colonization of Mars.
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