SpaceX Achieves Record-Breaking Launch Count in 2022 with Starlink Group 6-12; China Set to Launch Three Missions

In the first week of September, the space industry will witness four orbital launches and a single sub-orbital crewed launch. SpaceX kicked off the week with its Starlink Group 6-12 mission, followed by two consecutive missions by China, the Ceres-1S and Chang Zheng 4C. Virgin Galactic will also launch its fourth crewed mission in four months with Galactic-03, and China will conclude the week with a Chang Zheng 6A launch.

SpaceX’s Starlink Group 6-12 mission was launched from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) on Sunday, September 3. The Falcon 9 rocket deployed 21 Starlink v2 Mini satellites to a low-Earth orbit. With this launch, the total number of Starlink satellites in orbit reached 4,704, with 3,963 of them in operational orbits. SpaceX has launched a total of 5,048 Starlink satellites to date.

The booster used for this mission, B1073-10, had previously flown on multiple missions. After liftoff, the booster successfully landed on SpaceX’s recovery vessel Just Read the Instructions. The recovery ship Doug will attempt to recover both fairing halves from the water after approximately 45 minutes.

This mission marked the second Starlink launch from LC-39A in 2023. LC-39A has launched significantly fewer missions compared to SpaceX’s other pads due to pad conversions required for Falcon Heavy and Dragon launches. Despite this, Starlink Group 6-12 is SpaceX’s 62nd Falcon launch of the year, surpassing the company’s 2022 record of 61 orbital launches.

China’s Ceres-1S mission is scheduled for September 5 and will launch four internet satellites into low-Earth orbit. This launch will be the first maritime launch of the Ceres-1 rocket and the first private Chinese launch from a sea platform.

On September 6, China will attempt to launch the Chang Zheng 4C rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The launch vehicle, time, and payload for this mission are uncertain and subject to change.

Virgin Galactic’s Galactic-03 mission, scheduled for September 8, will be the company’s third commercial mission using the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity spacecraft. Passengers on this mission will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and breathtaking views of Earth. The spacecraft will be carried to an altitude of around 45,000 feet by the carrier aircraft VMS Eve before being released and igniting its hybrid rocket engine.

The crew members for Galactic-03 have purchased their tickets as early as 2005, and the full crew has not yet been announced. The SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity will be piloted by Nicola Pecile and Michael Masucci, with Colin Bennett as the astronaut instructor. The mothership VMS Eve will be piloted by Jameel Janjua and Kelly Latimer. This mission will be Virgin Galactic’s fourth spaceflight in four months.

The week concludes with China’s Chang Zheng 6A launch, scheduled for September 9 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. The details of the launch vehicle, payload, and launch time are currently uncertain.

Overall, the first week of September will see various exciting missions from different space companies, showcasing the continuous advancements in space exploration and satellite deployment. These launches contribute to the growing constellations of satellites in orbit, aiming to provide improved internet connectivity and expand our understanding of the universe.