SpaceX launches 46 Starlink satellites, lands rocket on drone ship

08/12/2022 | Elizabeth Howell - | External Article

Starlink Group 3-3 went aloft at 5:40 p.m. EDT (2140 GMT) towards an orbit experiencing 'squalls' of space debris.

 SpaceX sent another batch of its Starlink internet satellites on Friday (Aug. 12).

SpaceX brought Group 3-3 of the Starlink constellation into orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 5:40 p.m. EDT (2140 GMT; 2:40 p.m. local time). 

Falcon 9 rocket launched the 46 Starlink craft into space. About nine minutes after launch, the rocket's first stage landed atop a drone ship in the Pacific Ocean a little less than nine minutes after liftoff. The second stage was expected to deploy the satellites 63 minutes after launch, after the livestream concluded.

The new bunch of satellites are part of Group 3, which orbits in a shell that may be prone to debris "squalls" from a Russian anti-satellite test that took place in November 2021, according to a recent report by SpaceNews(opens in new tab).

SpaceNews reported that the space-tracking company COMSPOC recently disclosed an event called a "conjunction squall," during which 6,000 close approaches affected 841 Starlink satellites, representing about 30% of the SpaceX constellation.

A conjunction, by COMSPOC standards, is defined as two orbiting objects being within 6 miles (10 kilometers) of each other. SpaceX hasn't commented on whether any Starlinks were affected, but in past discussions about space junk, the company has emphasized that its satellites can maneuver to dodge close-approaching spacecraft or debris.

Group 3 (of SpaceX's five layers of satellites) spacecraft are in a similar orbit to other other sun-synchronous satellites that have come close to the Russian ASAT debris before, COMSPOC said in the report. 

 Group 3 is at an inclination of 97.6 degrees and at an altitude of 347 miles (560 kilometers), according to Teslarati

(opens in new tab). SpaceX has already sent two other Group 3 collections into orbit, on July 10 and July 22, both from Vandenberg.

SpaceX's 36th launch of 2022 added to its ever-growing record for launches in a year. The company also concluded its 62nd consecutive landing of a first stage, and a 34th reflight of a booster in 2022.

Friday's flight was the 10th for this particular Falcon 9 first stage, according to a SpaceX mission description(opens in new tab).