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Starlink: 1880 satellites in orbit

December 20, 2021

By Chris Forrester

December 18th saw two SpaceX launches; the first, from California saw the successful launch of an additional 52 Starlink satellites from the Vandenberg Airforce Base, meaning that Elon Musk’s broadband constellation now has some 1880 satellites in orbit, and mostly working.

The second, from SpaceX’s traditional launch site in Florida, saw the successful placing of Turksat 5B into its own electrical orbit raising to a final destination of 42 degrees East. This was the first time two Falcon 9 rockets were launched on the same day.

The California flight was the 28th Falcon 9 mission for SpaceX so far in 2021, setting a new company record for the largest number of rocket launches in a year. (That record was previously set in 2020, with SpaceX launching 26 Falcon 9 rockets.) The launch used the Falcon 9 booster for the 11th time, another record.

The Florida-launched booster for Turksat 5B also safely returned to its floating landing barge. Another Falcon 9 will launch on December 21st.

The actual Starlink total satellites launched is far more (at about 1944) but some were de-orbited or failed while in orbit.

According to Jonathan McDowell, who works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics and monitors SpaceX’s activities and statistics, some 1944 craft have been launched of which 1729 are working, plus the 52 launched on December 17th. But he cautions that there are some which are “out of constellation” and others where there appears be some sort of anomaly.

The end result is a Starlink constellation today of some 1467 which are operational – plus last the latest batch – in orbit.

The first Starlink was launched back in February 2018. The 1600 number of satellites is widely accepted as being key to enable Musk’s team to provide global coverage for consumers. But there’s still work to be done. Musk has FCC approval to launch 4408 satellites in its Phase 1, and another 7500 satellites (working in the V-band). Then there’s another application (with the Canadian government) to provide up to 30,000 satellite using E-band for additional global coverage.

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