Starlink To Help SpaceX Fly 394 Feet Tall Rocket At 1,000°F+ Temperatures

SpaceX's Crew Dragon rendered while entering the Earth's atmosphere. Image: SpaceX/YouTube

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As part of its orbital flight test for the Starship platform, SpaceX will use Starlink internet terminals to connect with its satellite constellation as both rockets are in the air. SpaceX is currently heading towards conducting the first orbital flight test of Starship from Boca Chica, Texas, with the rocket being the largest that the company has built to date. It will be powered by 33 engines and is designed to significantly increase the tonnage that the company can ship to low Earth orbit (LEO) ad provide it with a platform to send crewed and cargo missions to Mars.

SpaceX Will Install Starlink Dishes On Its Rocket Booster and Upper Stage Spacecraft To Demonstrate Connectivity

SpaceX's plans to use the highly anticipated flight test to also show off its satellite internet service were revealed through a filing that the company made with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday. The firm has already applied for launch communications with its vehicles to the regulatory body, and the latest filing is targeted explicitly toward Starlink.

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The application request is rather simple and it simply states that SpaceX would request that the FCC permit it to operate satellite terminals on a temporary basis and consult its application narrative for more details.

In the narrative, SpaceX describes the nature of the orbital test flight and its plans to incorporate Starlink with the crucial undertaking. It is not the first time that we have seen Starlink terminals make it onto Starship, as SpaceX also asked the Commission last year to mount user terminals on the prototype of the rocket's upper stage dubbed SN15. During the same time, photographs of the rocket with a Starlink dish mounted on it also surfaced, and SN15 made its suborbital test flight in May last year and managed to land successfully.

What appears to be a Starlink user terminal installed on the the Starship SN15 prototype in 2021 as it awaited its fate on the launch pad. Image Credit: Carter Goode

The narrative reveals that Starlink terminals installed on both the booster and the spacecraft will be active throughout the test flight's mission profile. SpaceX explains that it will demonstrate "high-data-rate" communications with Starship as it sits on the launch pad before launch, as it launches, while it is in flight, and as both the first stage booster and the upper stage spacecraft are recovered and enter the Earth's atmosphere, respectively.

High data rate communications were also a central part of a Starlink case study that SpaceX shared earlier this week to tout the benefits of its service for maritime users. Titled as "Starlink Increase SpaceX Recovery Fleet Throughput By 5900%, Reduces Costs By 70%", the study shared that when it came to SpaceX's drone ships and other vessels, the company was able to vastly increase the rate at which its ships sent data after rocket landing and reduce costs at the same time.

Crucially, SpaceX also sounds confident about Starlink's ability to withstand the plasma buildup around spaceships as they enter the Earth's atmosphere. Commonly referred to as a 'communications blackout' the event is common across all entries, and it is often a source of anxiety during crewed missions since ground controllers are unable to communicate with astronauts during this crucial leg of their return journey. During this time period, the air around a spacecraft heats up to temperatures as high as 3,500°F which then prevents radio waves from allowing communications.

Communications during the plasma blackout through Starlink were also mentioned during a SpaceX FCC application last year, which used the same text present in the latest application.

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Finally, the filing also indicates that SpaceX is open to either landing the first stage Super Heavy booster in the Gulf of Mexico, or offshore as it mostly does with the Falcon 9, or back in its facilities in Boca Chica. While it is not clear what platforms will be used in the case of a sea landing, in the case of a land landing, SpaceX aims to 'catch' the booster with its launch as it lands. Additionally, the upper stage Starship will aim to make a "powered, targeted landing in the Pacific Ocean", demonstrating another crucial aspect of the system.

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