Seventh SpaceX Starlink launch (Source: SpaceX Twitter)

SpaceX Starlink successfully conducts first May 2021 launch

Another month, another couple of batches of satellites – SpaceX successfully put another sixty Starlink broadband communication satellites into orbit today, May 4, 2021.  The company continues to increase its already mind-boggling statistics on its fleet of rockets and the Starlink constellation, with another launch scheduled for later this this month.

The launch took place at 3:01 PM ET from the Space Force Cape Canaveral Station at Launch Complex 40 (LC-40) without incident, successfully placing the 60 Starlink satellites into their planned initial orbit.  Over the weeks to come, the satellites will be checked out and moved to their final operational orbits.  The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket included a first stage that previously had flown 8 times, successfully landing downrange on a barge for the ninth time, along with one payload fairing half that had previously flown three times. It also marks the 100th flight of the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets without an in-flight mission failure, according to the company.

Today’s flight comes on the heels of an April 28 SpaceX Starlink flight with another Starlink launch likely to occur later this month. SpaceX has launched dedicated Starlink flights on roughly a twice monthly basis, with over 1,400 operational satellites currently in orbit. The company recently secured permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate up to 4,400 satellites at lower altitudes to improve safe safety, reduce emissions to prevent interference issues, and improve the customer experience.

During today’s SpaceX play-by-play launch broadcast, the announcer stated, “Over half a million people have placed an order or put down a deposit for Starlink.”  The company didn’t say how many customers were currently participating in the worldwide beta program at this time, but an early FCC filing alluded to over 10,000 Starlink users active in the beginning of the year.

“Only limitation is high density of users in urban areas. Most likely, all of the initial 500k will receive service. More of a challenge when we get into the several million user range,” SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk tweeted in a comment. SpaceX currently has an FCC operational license to operate up to 1 million Starlink dishes in the United States and has filed a modification to operate up to 5 million dishes.

Between frustrated GEO consumer satellite customers at Hughes and Viasat, SpaceX Starlink could easily have 500,000 orders/deposits on order.  The question is how fast can SpaceX meet demand in producing its Starlink dish terminal, currently pricing at around $1,500 and offered to customers at $499. SpaceX has yet to release numbers on dish production rates.

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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