This was SpaceX’s 41st rocket launch in 2022. It also set more than one record for the company.
SpaceX put a brand new, and enormous, commercial communications satellite in orbit late Saturday. It also set a new Falcon 9 rocket launch record.
The Falcon 9 was launched from Pad 39A, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It carried 34 SpaceX’s Starlink satellites as well as BlueWalker 3, a prototype satellite made by AST SpaceMobile. This satellite is being billed as the largest commercial communication array ever flown into space. Liftoff took place at 9:20 PM EDT (0120 GMT) Saturday night, September 10, with 34 SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites. BlueWalker 3, a prototype satellite built by AST SpaceMobile, was also in orbit.
“This is a record-breaking 14th landing for the booster,” Jesse Anderson (SpaceX production engineering manager) said during live comment. Other records were also set by the mission.
This was SpaceX’s first mission with five engines to launch payloads into orbit. It also marked the largest rideshare payload SpaceX has ever carried. Anderson stated that BlueWalker3 weighed a staggering 3,300 pounds (1.500 kilograms).
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk described the flight as “one of our most complicated missions”.
Meet BlueWalker 3 at AST SpaceMobile
SpaceX had 34 Starlink new satellites launched Saturday. However, AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 satellite stood apart for its size and ambitious mission.
It will cover 693 square feet (64 m2) when fully unfolded. This satellite is the largest commercial antenna array to be launched into space. It was launched to test new technology that will allow users to receive global cellular service from space. Its goal is to fill coverage gaps and provide seamless, high-speed data and phone service in underserved regions.
Space.com spoke with Scott Wisniewski, Chief Strategy Officer at AST SpaceMobile. He explained that satellites are large because they can communicate with low-power phones with low internal strength. We believe that this is essential for direct communication with regular handsets. There are no changes to the handset and no additional burdens.
Wisniewski stated that it will take several weeks for AST SpaceMobile to command BlueWalker 3 in order to deploy its spring-loaded antenna. He said that the company will conduct a series of health checks to make sure the satellite is in good condition.
AST SpaceMobile has partnered with 25 cellular service provider companies. Ten of them will take part in BlueWalker 3’s six-month shakedown cruise. This cruise will test the company’s capabilities on six continents. Wisniewski stated that these partners include Vodaphone and Rakuten Mobile, with a potential reach exceeding 1.8 million users. The company was granted an FCC license earlier this summer to test BlueWalker 3 in Texas and Hawaii.
AST SpaceMobile will require more than one satellite to cover the entire coverage area. Wisniewski stated that this is the end of kind of the R&D phase of our company before we move on to production satellites next spring.
BlueWalker 3 will be followed by five operational satellites by the company in 2023. The company hopes to eventually build a constellation with at least 100 giant satellites in order to provide complete coverage.
AST SpaceMobile is not the only company pursuing cell phone coverage from outer space. Lynk Global, a company that is also working on similar projects, and Elon Musk revealed last month that SpaceX will team up with T-Mobile in order to provide cellular service using its Starlink satellites.
AST SpaceMobile’s satellites are large enough to be visible from the ground. Some astronomers have criticized this plan for its possible impact on telescope observations from the ground. It’s the same complaint that has plagued SpaceX’s Starlink constellation since it was launched.
Starlink grows a rocket reuse record
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage returned to Earth approximately 8.5 minutes after it launched the BlueWalker 3 satellite and Starlink satellites. It made a precise landing on A Shortfall of Gravitas, the droneship owned by the company in the Atlantic Ocean. This landing broke a record for the most Falcon 9 booster launches.
The Falcon 9 stage had launched eight Starlink missions before Saturday’s flight. It also launched SpaceX’s first astronaut test flights for NASA (called Demo-2 in May 2020); the ANASIS-2 satellite to South Korea in July 2020; and the uncrewed CRS-21 cargo flight to the International Space Station in December 2020. There were also the Transporter 1 & Transporter 3 rideshare missions in Jan 2022 and January 2022.
Elon Musk revealed the Falcon 9 Block 5 booster, a workhorse rocket that can be used for launching commercial spacecraft. He stated that SpaceX had set a goal to fly them at most 10 times. SpaceX has increased rocket reusability with each flight as part of its efforts to reduce the cost of spaceflight.
SpaceX continues to expand its Starlink constellation and the coverage areas it covers. Royal Caribbean declared that it will use Starlink on all its cruise ships by 2023. SpaceX offers services for RVs and boats around the globe.
SpaceX has launched over 3,200 satellites in 2019 alone, with many more planned. SpaceX has applied to permit SpaceX to increase the number of satellites up to 30,000. SpaceX intends to complete its first constellation with 12,000 Starlinks orbiting.
SpaceX will launch another Starlink mission on Sunday, September 11. The 54 Starlink satellites will be carried on the flight from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. It is scheduled for launch at 10:53 PM EDT (0253 GMT). Space.com will live stream the launch at liftoff time.
SpaceX’s 41st year anniversary was marked by Saturday’s launch. It was SpaceX’s 179th overall launch.