SpaceX intends to conduct frequent rocket launches to build its second-generation Starlink network—weekly at first, but potentially increasing to once every few days.
SpaceX mentioned the plan in an FCC filing on Tuesday about the second-generation constellation, which will span nearly 30,000 satellites, a significant increase from the 4,408 first-generation Starlink satellites SpaceX is currently authorized to operate in low orbit.
“Although its specific launch cadence is being finalized,” the company said, “SpaceX anticipates launching satellites into the Gen2 constellation at a rate of at least once per week during 2023, with a more rapid cadence over time.”
According to the filing, SpaceX intends to use its more powerful Starship vehicle to launch 50 to 100 second-generation Starlink satellites into orbit per launch. Although the size of the second-generation satellites has significantly increased, this is a significant decrease from the 400 satellite-per-launch estimate given by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell(Opens in a new window) in 2019.
According to the FCC filing, SpaceX also intends to use the Falcon 9 rocket to launch second-generation Starlink satellites, which will most likely be smaller in size. Each launch will see the deployment of 20 to 60 Starlink satellites.
The FCC filing also appears to list the specifications for the second-generation Starlink satellites, including their mass. However, these figures are most likely inflated in order to avoid competitors learning about them.
SpaceX listed the specifications as part of an earlier(Opens in a new window) probability-collision analysis in August that used “conservative” figures to show that even a 2,000 kilogram (4,409 pound) second-generation Starlink satellite could meet the FCC’s orbital safety benchmarks.
The same analysis, however, stated that the actual second-generation Starlink satellite for the Starhip vehicle will be seven meters long and weigh 1.2 tons, citing an interview(Opens in a new window) that CEO Elon Musk had with Everyday Astronaut back in May.
“While SpaceX will use technically identical satellites on both rockets (including Starship), the physical structures will be tailored to meet the physical dimensions of the rockets on which they will be launched,” the company explained in an August FCC filing.
The second-generation Starlink satellites will be more than 3.5 times heavier than the existing first-generation Starlink satellites, weighing 1.2 tons (or 2,400 pounds). The increased mass may help explain how SpaceX intends to improve broadband quality for Starlink, which is currently experiencing capacity issues due to its popularity in the United States.
More than two years after filing the application, the company submitted the details to the FCC in the hopes that the commission will approve its plan for a second-generation Starlink network. The issue is that SpaceX is facing increasing opposition from competitors and environmental groups.
SpaceX claims in its filing to the FCC that delaying the second-generation Starlink network risks denying high-speed broadband to Americans who need it the most. The company is also concerned that its application for the second-generation network is being scrutinized more closely than the competition.
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“In this proceeding, SpaceX has provided a wealth of technical and operational information about its Gen2 system, far exceeding what the Commission’s rules specify,” the company said, later adding, “SpaceX voluntarily provides the above information only for informational purposes in an effort to bring this lengthy process to a close.”
Viasat, a competitor satellite internet provider, was quick to file(Opens in a new window) a rebuttal to the FCC, claiming SpaceX’s filing fails to adequately address orbital safety risks. The company stated, “The Commission can, should, and must use its authority to ensure that SpaceX’s proposed Starlink expansion does not jeopardize the productive use of space in the public interest.”