SpaceX Starlink launch May 15, 2021 (Source: SpaceX)

SpaceX launches Starlink satellites plus Capella Space, Tyvak rideshares

Last weekend, SpaceX successfully put into orbit 52 of its Starlink broadband satellites along with a Capella Space synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite and a Tyvak imaging pathfinder satellite.

The launch took place on May 15, 2021 at 6:56 p.m. EDT. It was the eighth flight for the B1058 Falcon 9 first stage which included a successful downrange landing onboard a SpaceX drone barge, and the 80th successful landing of a Falcon 9 booster.  All of the satellites, including the primary 52 Starlink broadband spacecraft and the two rideshare ones, were successfully put into orbit.

SpaceX has conducted a total of three Starlink launches since the beginning of the month – May 4 and May 9 the two other previous launches – and may conduct a fourth Starlink launch by the end of the month, with a May 26 target date.  The company has over 1400 operational communications satellites in orbit at this time and is licensed to launch over 4,400.  SpaceX previous said it would continue to conduct launches at a pace of at least twice a month but has more recently been averaging three to four times a month.

The Starlink service is currently in beta with some users reporting downlink speeds of over 300 Mbps, a speed that is expected to become “official” in the second half of the year.  Users continue to see issues with some coverage drops and gaps, a problem that SpaceX officials believe will be solved in the future through a combination of network and dish software fixes as the company finetunes the overall Starlink broadband system.

Capella now has a total of four production SAR satellites in orbit and is capable of delivering radar imagery of 50 centimeter resolution.  The company expects to launch at least one more satellite later this year, with others going up in 2022.  In March, the company said it had collected more than 34 TB of data since launching commercial operations in mid-January and “is on a path to collect many PB of data” by the end of the year, according to a company blog.

The Tyvak 0130 satellite is a 6U cubesat for “optical spectrum astronomy observation” according to the company’s NOAA public filing and contains an onboard telescope for looking at other satellites and space debris in orbit.  

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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