SpaceX aces Starlink launch, kicks off service in Germany, New Zealand

Falcon 9 B1058 lifts off for the sixth time on March 11th with SpaceX's 21st full batch of Starlink satellites in tow. (Richard Angle)

SpaceX has successfully completed the second 60-satellite Starlink launch this month and sixth Starlink launch this year while simultaneously announcing that the space-based internet service has begun rolling out in Germany and New Zealand.

SpaceX has also begun expanding Starlink availability throughout the northern and southernmost parts of the United Kingdom, as well as Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. As overall satellite reliability improves, minimizing the number of spacecraft that fail or have to eventually deorbit themselves shortly after launch, tonight’s Starlink-20 launch should theoretically leave SpaceX with a constellation more than 1180 satellites strong.

That would leave SpaceX as few as five dedicated Starlink launches away from crossing the 1440-satellite mark – a former target for “Phase 1” of the constellation. Assuming the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) eventually grants a languishing SpaceX request to lower the constellation’s planned orbits and tweak its orbital distribution, the new target – about 1584 satellites – is still just seven launches away after Starlink-20’s success.

Falcon 9 B1058 successfully completed its sixth launch and landing in support of Starlink-20. (SpaceX)

Depending on how SpaceX has structured its first several dozen launches, those ~1600 spacecraft would theoretically ensure coverage at almost any point on the Earth’s surface. Indeed, SpaceX itself explicitly says that Starlink “will continue expansion to near-global coverage of the populated world in 2021” – a feat it’s almost certainly on track to achieve.

SpaceX already has plans for two more Starlink launches in March with Starlink-21 lifting off as early as 5:44 am EDT (UTC-6) on March 13th and Starlink-22 following sometime around the end of the month. A relatively slow two-launch February has left SpaceX a fair bit behind its ambitious 48-launch goal for 2021 and a four-launch March would represent about as good of a ‘return to stride’ the company could hope for.

Around 45 minutes after liftoff, Falcon 9’s expendable second stage reignited its Merlin Vacuum engine for a fraction of a second, circularizing into a very low Earth orbit (LEO). (SpaceX)

That aggressive launch cadence (four launches per month) is exactly what SpaceX needs to hit that target while simultaneously expanding the Starlink constellation at a rate unseen in the history of spaceflight. Assuming 50-75% of those 48 launches are SpaceX’s own Starlink missions, that cadence would equate to a constellation growth rate of around 1400-2100 satellites per year. Even without a multiplier like Starship, that pace would easily allow SpaceX to blow past its initial ~4400-satellite constellation goal and possibly even complete the full ~12,000-satellite Phase 2 constellation before the company’s 2027 FCC deadline.

20 minutes after that, Falcon 9’s upper stage spun up and deployed all 60 Starlink satellites, completing SpaceX’s 21st consecutively successful Starlink launch. (SpaceX)
SpaceX aces Starlink launch, kicks off service in Germany, New Zealand
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