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Starlink: 1740 launched, lasers added

August 27, 2021

By Chris Forrester

A report from Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, states that 1740 of SpaceX’s broadband satellites have been launched. However, 98 have already re-entered the atmosphere and he says another 50 “are on their way down”.

This still means there are some 1600 working satellites in orbit.

McDowell talks specifically about a Starlink craft (Ref No. 2276) which was launched in May and seemingly malfunctioned. Its orbit has been lowered over the past three months and it re-entered the atmosphere on August 25th. Coincidentally, the satellite re-entered and burnt up almost directly over the Russian rocket launch site at Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

SpaceX has paused its usual twice-monthly launch cadence for its Starlink satellites and hasn’t launched since June 30th.

SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell told delegates to the Colorado Springs Space Symposium that the company had paused launches in order to fit laser devices for inter-satellite links to the craft waiting to be launched.

“We’re flying a number of laser terminals right now in space,” Shotwell said, “That’s why we have been struggling for six or eight weeks — we wanted the next set to have laser terminals on them.”

The on-board lasers would permit satellites to transfer data and information from craft to craft without communicating with ground-based gateways. Shotwell told delegates that this would improve coverage over areas where ground stations/gateways cannot be built.

Shotwell told conference attendees that it would start launching again in about three weeks.

SpaceX has also recently opened a UK ground station in the Isle of Man, which according to sources is now operational. The new site is additional to four UK gateways at the Arqiva site in Chalfont Grove and another at the famous Goonhilly facility in Cornwall.

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