SpaceX had been conducting an aggressive launch campaign with its Falcon 9 rocket throughout the first half of 2021 before the hiatus, enlarging the Starlink constellation to more than 1,600 satellites in low Earth orbit.
Fremont, CA: SpaceX is adding laser terminals on all future Starlink satellites and is the reason behind a break in launches for the broadband megaconstellation, president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said.
Shotwell said that its decision to add laser crosslinks, enabling the satellites to communicate with each other to reduce their reliance on ground stations, is “why we have been struggling” to launch a Starlink mission since June 30.
SpaceX had been conducting an aggressive launch campaign with its Falcon 9 rocket throughout the first half of 2021 before the hiatus, enlarging the Starlink constellation to more than 1,600 satellites in low Earth orbit. Typically, each Falcon 9 launch for the network has placed 60 Starlink satellites at a time. There were four Starlink launch missions this May alone. In addition, SpaceX has regulatory permission to operate 4,408 satellites at 550-kilometers altitude for global coverage.
Shotwell said the next Starlink launch will be in “roughly three weeks.” SpaceX launched 10 Starlink satellites with laser crosslinks to polar orbit in January, its first with the capability, so it did not need ground stations over the poles.
A ground station does not have to be in the same satellite footprint as user terminals by enabling communications from one satellite to another on the same or adjacent orbital plane. As well as reducing the number of ground stations needed for global coverage, laser crosslinks links can also lower latency because they reduce the number of hops between satellites and ground stations.
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