SpaceX says it’s on track to launch a third batch of operational Starlink satellites to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) as early as 2:40 pm PDT (21:40 UTC), Friday, August 12th.
To support the mission and help SpaceX’s Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) SLC-4 pad continue its aggressive launch cadence ramp, the company shipped Falcon 9 booster B1061 cross-country in July. Starlink 3-3 – the third launch of Group/Shell 3 satellites – will likely be the first of many West Coast coast launches for the booster, as well as its 10th launch overall.
Like Starlink 3-1 and 3-2, SpaceX says Falcon 9 will again lift off with 46 Starlink V1.5 satellites inside its payload fairing. Regulatory filings showing the rocket’s planned trajectory confirm (alongside its name) that Starlink 3-3 will continue to populate the third of five orbital ‘shells’ in SpaceX’s first licensed Starlink constellation.
Most of the constellation’s 4409 Starlink satellites will be part of Shells 1 and 4, which orbit Earth’s mid-latitudes. The other three shells are near-polar, meaning that they orbit (or at least orbit closer to) Earth’s poles. While very few humans live at the extreme upper and lower altitudes those satellites will cover, those that do are often some of the hardest in the world to serve internet to via traditional methods, with the only option often being subpar service from satellites in much higher Earth orbits. Starlink will effectively allow the most remote people on Earth to access the internet as if they were in an average city.
Starlink’s more polar shells will also help SpaceX connect vehicles temporarily traveling through or over some of Earth’s most remote regions. Once SpaceX activates the vast network of laser communications links aboard Starlink V1.5 satellites, polar satellites may even allow the company to improve the latency of some long-distance communication by routing traffic over Earth’s poles.
Starlink 3-3 will be SpaceX’s 36th launch of 2022 – an average of one launch every 6.2 days. Shortly after liftoff, Falcon 9 B1061 will attempt to land aboard drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY). SpaceX will also attempt to recover the rocket’s fairing halves, which are designed to autonomously reenter, deploy a GPS-guided parafoil, and gently splash down on the ocean surface.
If Starlink 3-3 is successful, Shell 3 of SpaceX’s first Starlink constellation will already be almost 40% complete after a single month of launches.