Sixty Starlink Satellites in One Falcon 9 – Fourteen Launches for Commercial Service

Elon Musk has shown a stack of sixty Starlink Satellites in a SpaceX Falcon 9 that will soon be launched. SpaceX will be able to start operating the Starlink network with 800 Starlink satellites. It would take fourteen launches to get over 800 Starlink satellites. These 60 satellites are prototypes which may not be good enough for the commercial service.

Each Falcon 9 launch will cost SpaceX about $30-40 million. SpaceX charges $50 million for each launch but SpaceX has a profit margin. Each Starlink satellite will cost about $1 million to launch and likely costs about $1-2 million to build.

20 thoughts on “Sixty Starlink Satellites in One Falcon 9 – Fourteen Launches for Commercial Service”

  1. If I were Musk, I’d let anyone who sprang for the phased array transceiver, use the network for free, until I was ready to start selling service. That way, the network would be fully tested, and operational by the time I started charging for service. I’m really looking forward to this. I suspect most early adopters will be able to install their own equipment.

  2. AT&T promised me fiber when I first saw this house nearly 5 years ago. They actually installed the fiber up my street this February, ie. 4 years 8 months after their promise. I haven’t jumped from my 24 Mbps U-Verse service yet. This one works OK, and fast enough for the moment, and I worry about switching from a known working product to a new flaky one.

  3. If it beats Comcast, I’m in. AT&T’s close to getting fiber in our subdivision, but their ‘close’ means I’ll probably die of old age before it happens.

  4. Probably 60 satellites fill an orbital plane, and they need 14 planes to get consumer-level full coverage (840 sats). They all start in the same orbit the Falcon delivers to, but with staggered timing of reaching final altitude, they will be spread out along the length of the orbit plane. Orbit velocities vary with altitude, so by varying *when* they change altitude, they will end up in a different place.

  5. Maybe not quite that quick. The reason 840 satellites are needed to start commercial service is low orbiting satellites don’t see much of the ground at once. Assuming 60 sats fills an orbital plane, 840 gives you 14 planes. They are therefore spaced 680 km apart within a plane, and the planes are 1170 km apart East-West at mid US latitudes. With a 550 km orbit altitude, that spacing ensures at least 1 satellite is more than 45 degrees above the horizon at all times.

    If all the planes are not filled, you will have coverage gaps. That may be fine for a ship in the middle of the ocean, where intermittent broadband is better than no broadband. But it sucks for consumer service. Elsewhere it has been said they can start “limited service” with half the planes filled, presumably planes 1, 3, 5, etc. But full service needs all of them.

    We don’t know how fast they can complete 14 successful launches, but until that’s done, they can’t even sign up mass subscribers. Then you have to get installers into the field. So my guess is about 3 years to reach break-even, starting from the first launch this month.

  6. An expendable F9 can only launch 22.8 t to LEO. The reusable one, which is almost certainly what they’ll need to use to keep deployment costs down, can launch 17-18 t.

    That would make the wet mass for each bird about 300 kg.

    I can’t say I understand how these deploy from the picture. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next week.

  7. That’s going to be like printing money if he pulls that one off… usually these type of big satellite networks ventures are ridden in heavy debt and go bankrupt.. but he’s got the cost down so low it probably pays for itself in the first year

  8. Yeah, that is a game changer. They will definitely be able to out compete anyone with that. I would not be surprised if it cost less than a $Million per satellite with them being that small.

    I wonder if they have some new tech for the Hall thrusters? There is constant mention of new ones that will be much cheaper and smaller. If Falcon 9 can launch max of 40 ton ??? reusable then these things weigh only a half ton. Must have some small thrusters good for small sats. Interesting.

  9. This is an pretty fun idea, put second stage on one end the rest of the stack on another.
    With 60 I assume they want an plane change

  10. I’d guess that the satellites will be spun out one at a time, perhaps ten minutes or so apart. Probably all the sats will be in the same plane, just spaced out either using propulsion or differential drag. It would be interesting to see if the second stage will restart its engines to put some of the sats in a different inclination. As an example, here’s an animation of Kicksat Sprite chipsats being spin deployed:

  11. All deployed at once, then they all find their own place in orbit with their own thrusters?

  12. Dispensing this many sattelites into different orbits might be a good use for tethers . Spin up to speed, split in two to send the halves into different orbits. Repeat. Or maybe just launch one at a time on a re-used tether.

  13. I’m curious what the deployment process looks like… how they will insert each into its own orbit?

  14. The amount they can actually fit inside F9 is definitely a surprise. Most estimations I read talked of ~24, with a few optimistic ones going slightly over 30 per fairing.

    The satellites appear to be smaller than the first examples we saw last year.

    Funny to think that each one of these has a Hall thruster made in house. Making SpaceX also the biggest producer of ionic thrusters ever.

    The deployment will be tricky, but I presume it will be very gradual, with each sat finding its place by itself.

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