November 24, 2020 SpaceX Starlink launch (Source: SpaceX)

SpaceX launches sixteenth Starlink mission, with seventh first stage flight

SpaceX continues to launch Starlink satellites at a steady pace, conducting its sixteenth mission to date on the evening of November 24. The Falcon 9 first stage rocket booster successfully completed its seventh flight, marking another milestone for the company’s reusability launch vehicle.

The launch took place at 9:13 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Of note, the Falcon 9 first previously put satellites for Telesat, Iridium, and four other Starlink launches into orbit. One half of Falcon 9’s fairing previously supported a mission, and the other half previously supported two, further demonstrating the company’s ability to reuse systems.

All 60 Starlink satellites were successfully placed into their initial orbits and are now steadily moving to their operational locations. SpaceX now has over 900 operational v1.0 Starlink satellites in orbit and need more than 1400 to provide global coverage for worldwide broadband operations. The company will continue to add satellites and is currently licensed to put up to 12,000 satellites into orbit.

SpaceX is expected to conduct another Starlink launch before the end of the year as a part of a larger manifest that has 5 launches set in December. The company expects to build up to two launches per month in 2021, an elusive goal to date because of its busy commercial and government manifest. Once the initial global constellation is in place, SpaceX will continue to launch satellites to increase available bandwidth and serve more customers within a particular geographic area.

More information continues to come out about the actual Starlink service and user gear. SpaceX Starlink engineers said that while there are currently no bandwidth caps on usage, they couldn’t rule them out in the future to cutdown on overuse by customers.

The actual SpaceX Starlink “Kit” of phased array dish and router may be a contrast in engineering. Business Insider estimates the phased array dish costs $2400 when bought in quantities of 1 million and is being manufactured by STMicroelectronics. The complementary Wi-Fi router is probably under $100 and is being manufactured in Taiwan.  

Beta trials for Starlink are currently being conducted in the Northern United States and Southern Canada, with an expansion of trials expected in late January-early February. The cost to participate in the beta is $499 for the Starlink Kit hardware and $99/month.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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