SpaceX’s third Starlink launch in three weeks is just around the corner

SpaceX is just a few days away from the third launch of the Falcon 9 Internet Starlink satellite in 22 days, also Starlink’s second ride-sharing trade mission in two weeks.

If successful, the Starlink v1.0 L9 mission will mark nearly 600 Internet satellites launched by SpaceX since the company began dedicated missions in May 2019, as well as ~ 530 operational spacecraft v1.0 launched since November 2019. According to the SpaceX executives, the company can begin implementing Internet service to customers through “UFO on a stick” user terminals once 14 v1.0 releases have been completed, which means the constellation could Being just five launches away from generating consistent revenue after the next batch of satellites is safe in orbit.

Meanwhile, SpaceX launched a separate method of generating revenue from Starlink’s launches just ten days ago, when it successfully launched three Planet imaging satellites over 58 new Starlink spacecraft. While the proceeds from reserving some satellites for launch on Starlink missions are probably not close to covering the actual cost of the material for SpaceX, they certainly can help offset the extraordinarily capital-intensive process of constellation building. Less than two weeks after SpaceX’s Starlink carpool debut, the next launch is slated to include two commercial imaging satellites, this time for BlackSky Global.

A new batch of SpaceX Starlink satellites is spread above. (Richard Angle)

Built by Washington startup LeoStella, the two imaging satellites slated for launch on Starlink-9 arrived in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 1 in time to be processed and installed in a stack of 58 or 60 satellite Starlink Internet.

SpaceX’s first Starlink ride shared three Planet SkySat satellites into orbit on June 13. (SpaceX)
60 Starlink v1.0 satellites prepare for flight in 2019 (SpaceX)

About half the size of the three ~ 110kg (240lb) SkySats SpaceX launched on June 13, the first two LeoStella BlackSky satellites are believed to weigh around 55kg (~ 120lb) each and are capable of obtaining images of the Earth’s surface with a resolution of ~ 1 m per pixel from a nominal orbit of 500 km (310 mi). BlackSky’s LeoStella contract includes 18 other satellites, all of which could (but probably won’t) launch on future Starlink missions.

Smallsat constellation operators generally seek diversity by launching more than a handful of satellites, ensuring that a hypothetical launch vehicle failure does not delay or destroy an entire constellation. Still, according to competitor Planet, SpaceX’s ride-share pricing is so good that it has actively changed the way the prolific satellite operator thinks of expanding the constellation. Planet, for reference, managed to launch three SkySats, weighing ~ 330 kg (~ 730 lb), for something like $ 3 million, at least 5-7 times cheaper than launching the same spacecraft on three rockets Electron Rocket Lab.

In support of Planet’s high praise, SpaceX recently announced that it had already secured launch contracts for more than 100 small satellites less than ten months after the show’s debut, which could inject an impressive $ 50 million to $ 100 million revenue. A large chunk of those satellites are likely to launch on one of SpaceX’s dedicated semi-annual carpool missions, the first of which is slated to launch in December 2020, but at least one or several dozen will likely manifest in the Starlink releases.

Falcon 9’s B1051 booster completed its third and fourth releases on January 29 and April 22. (Richard Angle)

According to CEO Elon Musk, the final cost of a flight-tested Falcon 9 launch can be as low as $ 15 million, excluding overhead, but including a new upper stage, booster recovery, propellant, and other miscellaneous costs. As such, a single 60-satellite Starlink launch will likely cost SpaceX less than $ 30 million in total, meaning an average of five small satellites (base price: $ 1 million per slot) manifested in a Starlink launch. it would save SpaceX ~ 17% every time.

Regardless, Falcon 9’s B1051 booster is slated to become the third SpaceX rocket to launch five times when it takes off for Starlink-9 no earlier than (NET) 4:39 pm EDT (20:39 UTC) on June 25, a three-day delay from the original June 22 target.

Check out the Teslarati newsletters for quick updates, insights on the ground and unique insights into SpaceX’s rocket launch and recovery processes.