Starlink User Dish Fitted On Rocket For Flight Test Later This Month


In an interesting experimental authorization request that it filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this week, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, (SpaceX) has asked the regulatory body to grant it the authority to operate a Starlink user terminal on top of a Starship prototype. SpaceX is currently testing its next-generation launch vehicle platform dubbed Starship in Boca Chica, Texas. The request filed with the FCC is the first of a kind for both Starship and Starlink, which is SpaceX's satellite-based internet service currently in its beta testing stage.

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The first important detail which SpaceX's filing provides us is a tentative launch date for Starship SN15. The launch system's last prototype test that took place at the end of last month ended with a spectacular mid-air explosion which SpaceX's live stream narrator Mr. John Insprucker described as "exciting." Following Starship SN11, SN15 is set to take to the skies not before the 20th of this month, with SpaceX's application reading as follows:

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The authority requested herein will be sharply limited in duration: SpaceX requests to operate under this STA for a period of only 60 days, beginning on April 20, 2020*, or the date on which the STA requested herein is granted, whichever is later.

SpaceX also explicitly states in its application that it requires the authority to test the user terminal both while it is on the ground and while or during test flights. The company also requests the authority to operate the terminal experimentally at "altitudes not to exceed 12.5 km", insinuating that the dish will indeed be operative while Starship SN15 is in mid-air.

The second bit of evidence that it will indeed be Starship SN15 which tests Starlink while performing its test 'hop', is a set of images from amateur photographer Carter Goode. Goode, who goes by the Twitter account @CarterGoode6, has shared several images of SN15 in a Google Drive - two of which we've shared with you below.

Both these images, and several others in Drive, show what might be a Starlink user terminal mounted on SN15. SpaceX's reason for testing the terminal on the prototype is uncertain, but it might involve testing the dish to check its effectiveness in maintaining signal during rapid acceleration.

The transmit and receive frequencies of terminal SpaceX has requested temporary testing authority for match those that its Starlink dishes use.

During the testing, should the terminal exceed the equivalent power flux density (EPFD) and power flux density (PFD) limits that SpaceX has agreed to maintain in its Starlink authorization, it will stop operating until it has rectified the reason behind the violation.

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In addition to requesting the FCC to allow it to test a user terminal onboard a rocket prototype, SpaceX has also sought authority to operate the service on moving vehicles. Starlink has already been tested on aircraft by the United States military, with SpaceX having requested the FCC for several experimental authorizations.

Despite being vastly different, Starship and Starlin are tightly interlinked, as SpaceX intends to use the profit from its internet service to fund its launch system. As opposed to the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon, which are only capable of sending humans into Low Earth Orbit (LEO), SpaceX plans Starship as a one-stop solution capable of not only replacing the Falcon lineup but also taking humans to the Moon and Mars.

Details shared by SpaceX chief Mr. Elon Musk have revealed that SN15 will be a major overhaul over its predecessors. SpaceX is yet to leave a prototype unscathed post-landing, as pressure problems for the prototypes have made it tricky for the company to generate the precise thrust levels required for smooth operation.

According to Musk, Starship SN11 failed its landing due to a fuel leak. The executive, who has shared his optimism for fixing the problem in the upcoming test, has also expressed hope that his company will reach orbit with Starship sometime this year. At this front, SpaceX will need an upper-stage prototype and a first-stage booster. The company is yet to test a booster prototype, as it expects to roll out its first workable est vehicle to the launch pad soon.

*2020 appears to be a typing error, as in the form for the request, SpaceX mentions the correct date which is April 20, 2021

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