SpaceX Starlink satellite constellation aims to become world’s largest after next launch

In a sign of things to come next year, SpaceX’s next – and third – 60-satellite Starlink launch is officially on the books, and – if all goes as planned – could make the company the proud owner of the world’s largest operational satellite constellation.

On May 24th, Falcon 9 lifted off for the first time ever on a dedicated Starlink launch, placing 60 ‘v0.9’ prototype satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), where they deployed solar arrays and fired up their own electric krypton thrusters to reach their operational ~550 km (340 mi) orbits. Of those 60 prototypes, several were intentionally deorbited while another handful suffered unintended failures, while 51 (85%) ultimately reached that final orbit and began operations.

Previously expected in mid-October, unspecified delays pushed SpaceX’s next Starlink launch – deemed Starlink-1, the first launch of ‘v1.0’ satellites – into November. On November 11th, Falcon 9 B1048 and a flight-proven payload fairing lifted off with 60 more Starlink satellites, also marking the first time a Falcon 9 booster completed four orbital launches and the first operational reuse of a recovered fairing. Upgraded with four times the overall bandwidth, improved structures, new Ka-band antennas, and more steerable ‘beams’ on each of those antennas, those 60 Starlink v1.0 satellites rapidly came online and began raising their orbits.