While SpaceX technically launched its 1000th Starlink satellite on January 20th, the company’s next launch could give Starlink 1000 working satellites for the first time ever.
Pushed from January 27th to no earlier than (NET) Sunday, January 31st by an apparent lack of drone ship availability, SpaceX’s 17th Starlink “v1.0” launch and 18th dedicated mission overall is on track to add another 60 satellites to the constellation. If the launch is successful and at least 90% of spacecraft are in good health after deployment, SpaceX will find itself with up to 1022 Starlink satellites – at least 1000 of which are functional.
NextSpaceflight reports that SpaceX has assigned Falcon 9 booster B1049 to Starlink-17, meaning that the company is about to launch another booster for the eighth time less than two weeks after Falcon 9 B1051 became the first to do so. Unlike B1051, though, which exemplified SpaceX’s recent decision to only static fire flight-proven boosters on a data-driven basis, Spaceflight Now says that Falcon 9 B1049 will be static fired prior to its eighth launch attempt.
Perhaps just four days after B1049’s Sunday launch, another SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch 60 more Starlink satellites on February 4th. As of January 28th, Starlink-17 is scheduled to launch no earlier than 7:02 am EST (12:02 UTC), January 31st, followed by Starlink-18 as soon as 1:19 am EST (06:19 UTC) on Thursday, February 4th. At least two more Starlink missions are nominally scheduled to launch in February.
Altogether, if it manages to squeeze Starlink-17 in before the end of January, SpaceX will have completed the first of ten or eleven four-launch months needed to achieve its target of 48 launches in 2021. SpaceX completed four launches in one month for the first time ever in November 2020, making an average cadence of four launches per month a clear uphill battle. However, a 48-launch year will become substantially more plausible if SpaceX manages to launch Starlink-17 this Sunday, turning a possible fluke into something demonstrably repeatable.
As Starlink launches begin to ramp up again, SpaceX’s satellite constellation growth is poised to skyrocket. For unknown reasons, a vast majority of the ~~950 Starlink v1.0 satellites currently in orbit are performing phasing maneuvers, meaning they have dropped slightly below their operational altitude to tweak specific orbital parameters. Once the constellation stabilizes and all current satellites complete their orbit-raising, Starlink – around 1000 operational satellites strong – should easily have the capacity and coverage for SpaceX to begin a dramatic expansion of its internet beta.