Back in March, some guy took to Twitter to make the bold prediction that SpaceX would launch 60 rockets this year. And surprise (to probably none of you) that guy was Elon Musk – fast forward to this morning, SpaceX just completed its 60th flight for 2022.
Correction: According to Jonathon McDowell, the satellites launched during the Starlink Group 5-1 were not Gen 2 Starlink Satellites.
Not your ordinary Starlink satellites
You might wonder why we are reporting on a Starlink launch, as they seem to happen weekly. Well, this mission isn’t just carrying the typical satellites we’ve seen launch before but instead upgraded Starlink V2 satellites designed to expand the capabilities of SpaceX’s Starlink network.
Starlink Group 5-1 launched 54 Starlink Gen 2 satellites which will join the Gen 1 satellites that the company has been launching since 2019. Planned initially only to be launched on Starship due to their larger size, the FCC approved a smaller version of the Gen 2 satellites to launch on top of Falcon 9 rockets earlier this year.
SpaceX founder turned attempted social media mogul Elon Musk has stated these satellites will be a magnitude better than Gen 1 satellites. Gen 2 Starlink satellites will eventually start to offer cell-phone connections to T-Mobile customers, but it’s unclear what upgrades are on these versions of Gen 2 satellites, known as the F9-1. A later F9-2 variant is also planned to be launched, which could bring more upgrades to Starlink’s network. SpaceX’s website says this about the new satellites and orbits shown on this launch: “this enables us to add more customers and provide faster service – particularly in areas that are currently over-subscribed.”
So if you’re a Starlink subscriber, these new satellites could bring a much-appreciated boost to internet speeds if you live in a more populated area.
SpaceX to end the year hitting Musk’s spring prediction
This isn’t the final mission from SpaceX, which may come this weekend from the West Coast, but this is a milestone launch. Starlink Group 5-1 brings SpaceX’s total to 60, matching Musk’s estimate he made back in March of this year.
That’s 12 more than what SpaceX could pull off in 2021, making the Falcon 9 the most-flown rocket this year. Assuming SpaceX’s final 2022 mission launches on time, it will bring SpaceX only two launches shy of beating China for total launches.
Let me just mention that again; a company almost beat the entire nation of China for how many rockets it could launch in a year. Is that not crazy? A big reason for that number is Starlink, taking up the majority of SpaceX launches this year. When you strip away the launches tied to Starlink missions, SpaceX only launched 26 missions. That number would still put them in the lead of US launch providers, but it would bring the US below China for the top nation in number of launches.
So while looking at the number from an industry standpoint, it’s artificially high due to Starlink. However, 60 launches in the context of just one company is extremely impressive, and congrats to the SpaceX launch and Falcon 9 teams that made it happen.