SpaceX inaugurated the first “Starlink V2 mini ” with a successful launch on Feb. 27, 2023 at 18:13:50 EST (23:13 UTC). These are not the usual Starlinks we are used to but an improvement of the previous version. These ones were designed to be launched with Starship, but due to their mass and volume, SpaceX team opted for a Starlink mini version, which is more compact to be launched with a Falcon 9.
The new Starlink V2 and V2 mini
In the last few years, we have seen several versions of the Starlink satellites. Some of the most significant changes came with version 1.5. where inter-satellite communication was introduced, it then became possible to speed up data packet transfer between satellites directly to ground stations. Among many improvements, SpaceX also continued to mitigate the visibility of its satellites in order to reduce the light pollution they cause.
But for the results SpaceX wants to achieve, that was not enough. They want to be the leading satellite Internet provider, with a connection comparable to fiber optics that can be reached more easily anywhere in the world. And to achieve this goal, Starlink satellites must be up to the task.
Version two of the satellites was thus announced about three years ago, mainly developed to be launched with Starship because of their characteristics. In fact, they have an estimated mass of about 1200kg and a significantly larger size than the previous version. But due to delays in Starship development, SpaceX had to reinvent itself to launch them with the Falcon 9 vehicle.
Thus were born the “Starlink V2 mini” satellites, a more compact model of the V2 version to fit, albeit in smaller quantities, into the fairing of the Falcon 9 rocket.This variant will have a total weight of about 810kg each, and 21 of them will be deployed per launch, compared to 49~54 for the previous version.
We call them “V2 Mini”. They represent a step forward in Starlink capability pic.twitter.com/EFVpLFcz7n— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 26, 2023
Among the latest innovations announced, we learned in recent days that the V2 Minis are the first to use a new Argon Hall thruster for on-orbit maneuvers, offering 2.4x times more thrust and 1.5x times specific impulse compared to the old Starlink version.
Among other enhancements, V2 minis are equipped with new argon Hall thrusters for on orbit maneuvering pic.twitter.com/4G5nI3zsyX— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 26, 2023
The Launch, named Starlink Group 6-1, lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) to reach a circular orbit at an altitude of 530km. This launch will be part of Gen2, a Starlink constellation positioned at a different orbit compared with Gen1. And when it is completed it will reach about 30,000 satellites. Meanwhile, Gen1 will be completed by 2023 with 4,408 units.
The Entire launch process was a success, in particular, the Falcon 9 first stage landed on the droneship at sea “A Shortfall of Gravitas“, marking the record of 100 consecutive successful landings.
SpaceX also shared an incredible clip showing the deployment of the new satellites in orbit with spectacular framing and quality. The camera was attached to the tension rod that keeps the satellites firmly in place during integration and launch, and now it seems that this tension rod remains locked to the Falcon 9’s second stage to reduce orbital debris pollution.
With the previous version of Starlink it was being separated and disposed during the deployment, and would eventually burn up in the atmosphere after its orbit decayed overtime.
First Starlink v2 satellites reach orbit pic.twitter.com/0l08568mJ9— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 28, 2023
Furthermore, in an official document, it was pointed out that SpaceX is implementing operational solutions to reduce the brightness of its satellites and continues to collaborate with astronomers for this goal. In addition, the company plans to share its knowledge with other space operators in order to protect shared space.SpaceX also offers satellite owners and developers the opportunity to purchase at cost the tools it has developed, such as dielectric mirror film and dark paint.
This shows once again the attention that SpaceX’s concern for the preservation of the space environment and great openness to collaboration with the scientific community and the public, showing that it cares about the welfare of the entire space community.