SpaceX has problems with second-generation Starlink satellites

SpaceX is having problems with the recently launched test batch of the second-generation Starlink satellites (also known as Starlink V2 Mini). The company may have to take some of them out of orbit ahead of time.

Second-generation Starlink satellites

The Starlink V2 Mini is an intermediate stage between the previous generation of spacecraft (V 1.5) and those Starlinks that will be launched into orbit using the Starship spacecraft. Despite their designation, these satellites are much larger and heavier than their predecessors. The mass of the Starlink V2 Mini is 810 kg, and the diameter (after opening the solar panels) is 30 meters. If the Falcon 9 put out an average of 50 – 55 Starlink V 1.5 per launch, now a batch of 21 spacecraft has gone into orbit.

A batch of Starlink V2 Mini satellites. Source: SpaceX

The new Starlinks are equipped with new argon-powered Hall thrusters for orbit maneuvering. They have 2.4 times more thrust and 1.5 times more specific impulse than xenon engines on V 1.5. As for the bandwidth of the Starlink V2 Mini, it is four times higher than the previous generation. The satellites are equipped with more powerful antennas and are able to transmit signals directly to smartphones.

Problems with Starlink V2 Mini

The first batch of 21 Starlink V2 Mini test satellites was launched on February 28. The Falcon 9 rocket successfully put them into an intermediate 370-kilometer orbit. A few days later, the spacecraft began to ascend, but then interrupted this process. Moreover, according to satellite spotters, starting from March 15, the altitude of the group’s orbit began to decrease. Two spacecraft stand out in particular, which have already dropped to 365 km.

Satellite view of a fully deployed Starlink V2 Mini in orbit. Photo: HEO Robotics

The unusual orbital movements of the Starlink V2 Mini led to the assumption of malfunctions of the spacecraft. On March 22, Elon Musk confirmed the rumors, saying that due to the large number of new technologies, the company had problems with satellites. Some of them will soon be taken out of orbit, others will undergo thorough testing before they begin to rise to their working height, located above the orbit of the ISS.

So far, SpaceX has not reported exactly what the problems with the Starlink V2 Mini are. It is also unknown whether the launch of the next group of spacecraft scheduled for March 30 will take place or whether they will be recalled for testing.

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