SpaceX launches a gigantic satellite and breaks a reuse record

On Saturday, September 10, SpaceX distinguished itself twice: on the one hand by placing a huge commercial communications satellite in orbit and on the other hand by setting a new launch and landing record for the same first Falcon 9 rocket stage.

What is the BlueWalker 3?

Another Falcon 9 lifted off from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, this Saturday, September 10, carrying thirty-four internet satellites star link, but not only. A mastodon accompanied them. Named BlueWalker 3, it is a prototype satellite built by AST SpaceMobile. He is also presented as the largest business communications network never used in space.

The main mission of this satellite, which measures sixty-four square meters once deployed, will be testing a new technology designed to deliver global cell phone service directly to users from space. Its goal would be to fill coverage gaps and provide seamless high-speed voice and data service in underserved areas.

For this work, AST SpaceMobile partnered with twenty-five cellular service providers. A dozen of them, including Vodaphone, Rakuten Mobile and Orange, will participate in a series of tests aimed at evaluating the satellite’s capabilities across six continents. Before that, the company will have to carry out a series of checks to ensure that the satellite is in good condition. Eventually, she hopes to develop a constellation of at least one hundred giant satellites to provide full coverage.

Due to their size, these huge structures could be brighter than any other object in the night sky except the Moon. Some astronomers therefore naturally criticized the project for its potential impact on observations.

The fully deployed BlueWalker 3 satellite. It is the largest commercial communications network sent into space. Credits: SpaceX

And fourteen

About 8.5 minutes after the satellites launched, the Falcon 9 first stage returned to Earth to land off Florida on a recovery barge. It was the fourteenth flight for as many landings of this launcher, which is a record for the company. More than ever, SpaceX is pushing the limits of rocket reuse with the Block 5 version of its Falcon 9, initially presented in 2018.

Before this new launch, this rocket had already launched eight Starlink missions, as well as SpaceX’s first astronaut test flight for NASA (called Demo-2) in May 2020, the ANASIS-2 satellite for South Korea in July 2020, the CRS-21 uncrewed cargo mission to the ISS in December 2020, as well as the Transporter 1 and Transporter 3 missions in January 2021 and January 2022.

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