What seemed to be a regular Starlink launch scheduled at the end of this month, closing a fantastic year for SpaceX and their Launch cadence, will actually be the debut Launch of SpaceX’s Starlink V2 Satellites.
Starlink has been a great success for SpaceX, achieving a really high launch cadence this year: 33 Falcon 9 launches during 2022 were dedicated to Starlink, which is defined as SpaceX’s Internal Customer.
All these launches carried an improved version of the original Starlink V1.0 Satellites, and while we don’t know exactly which iteration they were, everyone referred to them as “Starlink V1.5“ Satellites.
Now we are in December and the year is coming to a close, SpaceX however is targeting the Launch of a new Iteration of Starlink before the end of the year.
Earlier this year, back in August, SpaceX sent a letter to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) announcing that they were developing a downsized version of Starlink V2 Satellites, custom designed to be launched on a Falcon 9 Rocket.
“SpaceX is proud to inform the Commission that it has decided to—David Goldman, Director of Satellite Policy at SpaceX
further accelerate its already record-breaking deployment schedule for its Gen2 system by using both its new Starship vehicle as well as its tested and dependable Falcon 9.”
Originally, SpaceX planned to deploy the new Gen2 Starlink Constellation only with Starship, which is way more capable and powerful than the Falcon 9. With the technical delays that Starship has suffered over the past months, and various indications in its development program that the initial vehicles wouldn’t have started immediately after the deployment of Starlink V2 satellites, SpaceX changed its plans.
Starship will be an incredible enabler for science. Full reusability & high production rate drive several orders of magnitude improvement in $/kg to orbit & beyond.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 18, 2022
Next gen Starlink constellation is primary user of this rocket, so science doesn’t need to cover fixed cost.
But, a problem needed to be solved: the Gen2 Starlink Satellites are too big to fit inside the Falcon 9 Fairings, and that would have prevented the Launch with SpaceX’s workhorse for these new Generation Satellites.
A downsized Starlink version
To solve that problem, and avoid the Gen2 being grounded indefinitely while waiting for Starship progress, SpaceX decided to develop a smaller version of the Gen2 Satellites.
“While SpaceX will use technically identical satellites on both rockets, the physical structures will be tailored to meet the physical dimensions of the rockets on which they will be launched. In no event will any satellite exceed the overly conservative DAS analysis SpaceX provided to the Commission.”—David Goldman, Director of Satellite Policy at SpaceX
Basically, those new “tiny” Satellites will be exactly the same as the “original” Gen2 version, but the size has been shrinked to meet the requirements of Falcon 9 Fairings’ capabilities.
The “DAS” Analysis and Collisions Probability
SpaceX’s David Goldman is also referring to the “DAS Analysis“ in the letter. DAS stands for Debris Assessment Software, and it’s a critical part of the system. Its role is to define the probability of collision for the Starlink Constellation, data in which the FCC and other operators, as well as NASA and other Space Agency, are really interested in.
SpaceX specified in the letter that Gen2 collision probability calculation used a Satellite size that is larger than the actual Gen2 Satellite, with a total mass of 2000 Kg and an area of 294 Square Meters… Just to be safe.
In addition to assuming this larger size, SpaceX added more conservatism by assuming the satellite was tumbling, and by averaging the large object passive decay collision probability over 11 years starting in 2022 to capture the entire solar cycle.
Importantly, even if SpaceX calculated its large-object collision risk using the worst-case year over the last 11 years, the per-satellite collision risk for a Gen2 satellite would still fall well within FCC thresholds.
All those specific data came after NASA outlined concerns about the Gen2 Starlink Constellation, earlier this year, in February.
New Hints for the first Gen2 Launch
SpaceX made a filing two days ago for its VHF tracking beacons on the Gen2 Satellites, and while the beacon transmissions haven’t been approved yet, SpaceX mentioned Gen2 Launches starting this month.
This could mean that SpaceX expects the beacons to be approved soon, while preparations for the launch are underway. We are not sure what to expect, but indeed SpaceX is more than ready for the long-waited debut Launch of Gen2 Starlink Satellites.
The Launch, designated Starlink Group 5-1, is scheduled to occur on December 28th at 3:19 a.m. EST (08:19 UTC) from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
It will also be the final Launch for SpaceX in 2022, but don’t worry… January is already packed with Launch for SpaceX, with also two Falcon Heavy Mission scheduled, after it came back in service earlier this year.