SpaceX launches latest Starlink batch ahead of premium service plan

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TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX launched another set of Starlink satellites Feb. 3 as it prepares to offer a faster, more expensive premium service for the broadband network.

A Falcon 9 carrying 49 Starlink satellites launched from Launch Complex 39A at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center at 1:13 p.m. Eastern.

About 90 minutes later, SpaceX confirmed the satellites had been deployed from the upper stage to low Earth orbit through a social media post.

Shortly after launch, the rocket’s first stage landed on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The booster has previously supported five earlier SpaceX launches, including satellites and missions to the International Space Station.

The payload’s fairing, which parachutes to the ocean to be recovered by boat after separating from the upper stage, has also been used multiple times. 

According to SpaceX, one half was used for five previous Starlink missions. The other half supported two earlier Starlink launches in addition to Transporter-1, SpaceX’s first dedicated rideshare program mission in January 2021.

SpaceX has launched 2,091 satellites for its LEO constellation, according to statistics kept by astrophysicist and spaceflight analyst Jonathan McDowell, including two prototype spacecraft.

Extrapolating McDowell’s figures following SpaceX’s latest launch, around 1,920 of those Starlink satellites are currently in orbit.

SpaceX is currently authorized to deploy 4,408 satellites in LEO to build out the network’s global coverage.

The company also seeks regulatory permission for a second-generation constellation of nearly 30,000 satellites to improve performance. 

Starlink Premium

For the areas it is available, Starlink’s website says users “can expect to see download speeds” of 100-200 megabits per second and “latency as low as” 20 milliseconds “in most locations.”

Users are charged $499 for hardware that includes an antenna and $99 per month for the service.

However, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced a more expensive service tier via Twitter Feb. 2 called Starlink Premium, which he said will include an antenna with “twice the area of our standard phased array with broader scan angle.”

According to Starlink Premium’s website, the new service is specifically designed for small offices, storefronts, and high-demand users who can expect download speeds of 150-500 megabits per second.

“Designed specifically for high demand users, Starlink Premium helps ensure bandwidth for critical operations even during times of peak network usage,” the website says.

Starlink Premium users will be charged $2,500 for hardware and a $500 monthly fee for the service.

The company expects to start making deliveries for Starlink Premium in the second quarter of 2022.