SpaceX released the new group of Starlink satellites on January 20, taking to over 1,000 the cumulative number of satellites deployed for that telecommunications constellation so far. At 8:02 a.m. Eastern, the Falcon 9 lifted off at Kennedy Space Center from the Launch Complex 39A. Sixty-five minutes after the liftoff, the rocket’s upper stage launched the payload of Sixty Starlink satellites. The first stage of the rocket, completing its eighth mission, arrived in the Atlantic Ocean on a droneship. During the deployment webcast, SpaceX warned that the possibility for strong ground-level winds rendered the landing an opportunity at “envelope expansion.” In the middle of the droneship, however, the stage arrived without an accident.

The flight was the very first time that SpaceX flew an eight-time booster. This booster, first used in 2019 March to fly the Demo-1 commercial crew test flight, was recently deployed on the December 13 launch of the SXM-7. For the shortest possible time between flights which are of the same booster, the 38-day processing time between the launches is also a milestone. With this mission, 1,015 Starlink satellites have now been launched into orbit by SpaceX, going all the way back to the two ‘Tintin’ designs deployed in 2018 February. As per figures collected by Jonathan McDowell, who works as a spaceflight observer, 951 of the 1,015 are now in the orbit. Last year, SpaceX speeded up its Starlink launch with fourteen launches. 

Patricia Cooper, who works at the SpaceX as the vice president in charge of satellite government affairs, spoke at a conference of the 237th conference of the American Astronomical Society on January 14, stating that over the last year, the organization has taken significant measures to reduce the Starlink satellites’ effect on astronomy. “We absolutely loved what I would consider a careful and innovative technical cooperation with an ever-expanding team of astronomers at the SpaceX,” she said, contributing to a “broader and deeper technical comprehension of satellite constellation sector’s intersection as well as specific projects that influence ground-based astronomy.”

This culminated in creating a variant of the Starlink satellites named VisorSat, which is fitted with visors that minimize their visibility to avoid sunlight from bouncing off antennas as well as other surfaces on satellites. Each Starlink satellite deployed after August 2020 is fitted with visors, which, she stated, account for over 400 satellites. The purpose of the VisorSats is to decrease the intensity to magnitude seven or even lower of Starlink satellites. However, measurements of certain satellites that have completed their final orbit show that they also have an overall magnitude of 6.5, the University of Michigan’s Pat Seitzer stated during the briefing session.

By Adam

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