SpaceX plans to launch the first tranche of its new Starlink generation, and you can watch the launch for free.
A Falcon 9 rocket topped with a fleet of Starlink 5-1 group satellites — the first generation 2 (Gen2) versions of the SpaceX internet satellites — is scheduled for launch at 4:30 a.m. EST (0930 GMT) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in coastal Florida. You can watch the launch free, courtesy of SpaceX, beginning about 5 minutes before liftoff.
“This launch marks the first of Starlink’s upgraded network. Under our new license, we are now able to deploy satellites to new orbits that will add even more capacity to the network,” SpaceX wrote (opens in new tab) in a mission description. “Ultimately, this enables us to add more customers and provide faster service — particularly in areas that are currently over-subscribed.”
Related: 10 weird things about SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites
As of Dec. 27, weather is 90% go for the launch but SpaceX is watching the conditions at sea for booster recovery, according to a weather forecast by the Space Force Delta 45 (opens in new tab) team at the station. If it goes forward, this will be the 60th launch of SpaceX in 2022, nearly doubling the 31 launches set as a SpaceX record in 2021.
A typical Starlink launch has the Falcon 9 rocket send the Starlinks to low Earth orbit, with the first stage touching down about eight minutes later atop a drone ship. This launch will aim to touch down on the ship, called A Shortfall of Gravitas, in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s coast.
The Falcon 9 first stage on this mission is making its 10th flight. The booster previously flew four Starlink missions, launched two U.S. GPS satellites, the Nilesat 301 commercial satellite and carried two different private astronaut crews on the Inspiration4 and Ax-1 missions, SpaceX has said.
Gen2 of Starlink is said to be more powerful than the 3,300 or so working in orbit right now, and it appears SpaceX needs the bandwidth boost. The broadband network is facing congestion woes despite sending hundreds of first-generation Starlink satellites aloft this year, a recent SpaceNews (opens in new tab) report suggested.
On Dec. 1, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted approval for SpaceX to deploy 7,500 Gen2 satellites. That was just a partial approval, however, as SpaceX applied to the FCC for permission to send nearly 30,000 of these satellites to low Earth orbit.
Besides being able to handle more traffic, Gen2 satellites can beam service directly to smartphones, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said. While this crop is going into space aboard a Falcon 9, SpaceX eventually plans to use its massive Starship rocket, which is in development and has been awaiting approval to fly to space for 18 months.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of “Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).