SpaceX’s first launch of Starlink internet satellites this year is scheduled to depart from California’s Central Coast on Monday night, but high winds and storms could hamper the Falcon 9 rocket’s launch with 51 new broadband relay stations.
The 70-meter tall Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch at 8:15 p.m. PST (11:15 p.m. EST; 0415 GMT) from its launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base for SpaceX’s first Starlink mission of 2023. It is also Vandenberg’s first launch of the year.
The 51 Starlink internet satellites onboard the rocket will bring the total number of Starlink spacecraft launched to 3,717.
But the weather forecast for launch is dubious at best. There is only a 30 percent chance of acceptable conditions for the Falcon 9 rocket launch Monday night as high winds and storms bring deluged rains to California. SpaceX says it has a backup launch opportunity Tuesday at 8:02 p.m. PST (11:02 p.m. EST; 0402 GMT).
The mission will showcase a brand new Falcon 9 booster, designated B1075, making its first flight into space. The 15-story first stage booster will fire for about two and a half minutes before separating to begin a descent toward SpaceX’s Just Read the Instructions drone ship in the Pacific, a few hundred miles below Vandenberg.
The Falcon 9 will fly southeast from the California Cosmodrome and aim for an orbit inclined 70 degrees to the equator. The mission aims to deploy the 51 Starlink satellites in Group 2 of the constellation.
SpaceX’s first-generation Starlink fleet is spread out in five groups, or orbital envelopes, ranging in altitude from 335 miles to 354 miles. The first-generation Starlink dishes are tilted at different angles to the equator, with some satellites orbiting between latitudes 53 degrees north and south, and others flying in pole-to-pole orbits.
The Starlink satellites in this launch, named Starlink 2-4, will fly in an orbit inclined 70 degrees to the equator. It is the second Group 2 launch, following a September 2021 mission that also put 51 Starlink spacecraft into orbit.
SpaceX began launching satellites into its second-generation Starlink constellation, called Gen2, last month. The Starlink 2-4 mission will continue to fill out the first generation Starlink fleet.
The Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 1 gave SpaceX approval to launch up to 7,500 of its planned Starlink Gen2 constellation of 29,988 spacecraft. The regulator has delayed a decision on the remaining satellites SpaceX has proposed for Gen2.
The FCC has previously authorized SpaceX to launch and operate approximately 4,400 first-generation Ka-band and Ku-band Starlink spacecraft that SpaceX has launched since 2019.
The Gen2 satellites could improve Starlink coverage in lower-latitude regions and help ease pressure on the network from increasing consumer adoption. SpaceX said last month the network now has more than 1 million active subscribers. The Starlink spacecraft will broadcast broadband internet signals to consumers around the world, connectivity now available on all seven continents and currently being tested at a research station in Antarctica.
Monday night’s Vandenberg launch, assuming it flies, is scheduled to come just 35 minutes before SpaceX is scheduled to send another Falcon 9 rocket into orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla. This launch, scheduled for 11:50 p.m. EST (0450 GMT), will put 40 internet satellites into orbit for OneWeb, a rival of the Starlink network in the broadband market.
If both launches go ahead as planned, it would be the shortest time span between two SpaceX missions to date.
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