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SpaceX launches 46 Starlink satellites, lands rocket on drone ship

SpaceX sent another batch of its Starlink internet satellites on Friday (Aug. 12). SpaceX brought Group 3-3 of the Starlink constellation into orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 5:40 p.m. EDT (2140 GMT; 2:40 p.m. local time). A Falcon 9 rocket launched the 46 Starlink craft into space. About nine minutes after launch, the rocket’s first stage landed atop a drone ship in the Pacific Ocean a little less than nine minutes after liftoff. The second stage was expected to deploy the satellites 63 minutes after launch, after the livestream concluded.The new bunch of satellites are part of Group 3, which orbits in a shell that may be prone to debris “squalls” from a Russian anti-satellite test that took place in November 2021, according to a recent report by SpaceNews(opens in new tab).

SpaceNews reported that the space-tracking company COMSPOC recently disclosed an event called a “conjunction squall,” during which 6,000 close approaches affected 841 Starlink satellites, representing about 30% of the SpaceX constellation. A conjunction, by COMSPOC standards, is defined as two orbiting objects being within 6 miles (10 kilometers) of each other. SpaceX hasn’t commented on whether any Starlinks were affected, but in past discussions about space junk, the company has emphasized that its satellites can maneuver to dodge close-approaching spacecraft or debris. Group 3 (of SpaceX’s five layers of satellites) spacecraft are in a similar orbit to other other sun-synchronous satellites that have come close to the Russian ASAT debris before, COMSPOC said in the report.

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