SpaceX Ramping Up to Production of Starlink Satellites

SpaceX has announced a launch target of May 2019 for the first group of operational Starlink satellites. SpaceX needs to launch about 2200 Starlink satellites by April 2024 to be in compliance with the FCC license. SpaceX filed with the FCC to modify its Ku/Ka-band NGSO license to relocate satellites previously authorized to operate at a lower altitude of 550 km and to make other changes. Here is a link to SpaceX’s 83 page technical report with its filing. The first generation of SpaceX Starlink satellites will have a simplified design for faster development and deployment. There will be continuous improvement and addition of features in subsequent generations. Initial deployment of 1,584 satellites operating at 550 km with 25 degrees minimum earth station elevation angle. Insertion altitude for the modified satellites will be 300-350 km (depending on solar activity). This will require less fuel for orbit raising. Atmospheric drag at 550 km is significantly higher but the new design reduces Hall-effect electric propulsion work by 50%. Operating at lower altitude increases reliability by reducing radiation intensity and reduces collision chance in congested 550 – 1,150 km LEO orbits. Satellites will re-enter atmosphere ≈6 months after end of mission. 550 kilometer altitude is a self-cleaning orbit. Debris lifetime is days or weeks. The longest decay time of failed spacecraft is about 5 years.

6 thoughts on “SpaceX Ramping Up to Production of Starlink Satellites”

  1. The 386 kg is a disposal number. Wet mass is likely to be closer to 500 kg. But they should be able to get 30 birds to the target orbits with a reusable F9 at that weight.

  2. Has 24/launch been announced somewhere, or is that your estimate?

    The length at reentry, excluding solar panels, is listed in the FCC application as 4 meters, but I suspect that includes deployed antennas. If there are two on each side of the body, and they’re the same length and width as the body, then the stowed length of each Starlink should be 1.3 m. I can get 43 birds per launch at that size, but a reusable F9 would be limited to about 30.

    I keep expecting SpaceX to announce an FH fairing that’s been stretched to EELV Category C length, which would be 5 meters longer than the current one. That would allow about 62 birds per launch–quite an improvement. But FH launch capacity is much lower, especially since it has to share the pad with the F9/D2 launches.

    They can’t do 36 launches a year; there won’t be range capacity for it. SpaceX has to share the ranges with ULA, and soon with NGIS, and all the small launchers that decide to use Florida as a launch site. The Eastern Range is only planning to ramp to 48 launches/year, and the Western Range has never done more than about 10.

    And the minimum isn’t 2250 at the end of 2024. Per the two FCC licenses, it’s 2250 at the end of March 2024, with another 3759 required to be launched by December 2024.

    They really, really need to be able launch Starship out of Canaveral by early 2023, or things are going to get ugly. Boca Chica can help somewhat, but only if on-orbit refueling works to do a big plane-change.

  3. I think the problems are the mass of the payload for F9 and the size of the fairing for FH.

    The count of 24 sats per fairing comes from the F9 payload for reusable mode (24 * 400 kg = 9600 kg, within F9’s reusable mode payload). FH could certainly launch more, but then you’d eventually hit the problem of the fairing size and deployment of the sats.

    Also they seem to have developed a good launch pace for F9 block 5, which is still pending to be shown for Falcon Heavy.

    It seems F9 will be their launcher of choice, despite of increasing the number of launches.

    Super Heavy/Starship is an unknown so far. If it is ready in 1 year or two for launching cargo, it can certainly be used. But I doubt they are planning for it right now.

  4. Wonder if lobbing a reusable FH makes more sense for the LEO insertion; less launches necessary overall. But theyll do the most cost effective thing.

    Starship would really help but SpaceX is in a chicken or the egg situation with that situ
    (Starlink brings the $ but needs the lift capacity /Starship has the lift capacty but needs the $).

  5. With a capacity of 24 sats per F9 fairing, they will need 100 launches for sending ~2400 satellites, the minimum required being 2250 or so.

    That means a launch roughly every three weeks since next May until EOY 2024.

    That would basically occupy all their current launch manifest, plus the additional upcoming paying customer launches. Apparently they are looking to at least double the launch rate to ~36 launches per year.

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