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SpaceX rocket launches BlueWalker 3, the biggest commercial communications array ever, and aces record 14th landing

SpaceX launched a novel and colossal commercial communications satellite into orbit late Saturday and set a fresh launch record because of its Falcon 9 rocket simultaneously.

The Falcon 9 launched into orbit from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida carrying 34 of SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites and BlueWalker 3, a prototype satellite built by AST SpaceMobile that’s billed because the largest commercial communications array ever flown in space. Liftoff was at 9: 20 p.m. EDT (0120 GMT) on Saturday night (Sept. 10), with the Falcon 9 booster making some SpaceX history when it returned to Earth.

Related: SpaceX’s Starlink megaconstellation launches in photos

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from Pad 39A at night

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Focus on Sept. 10, 2022 carrying 34 Starlink satellites and the huge BlueWalker 3 satellite. (Image credit: SpaceX)

“It is a record-breaking 14th landing because of this booster,” Jesse Anderson, a SpaceX production engineering manager, said during live commentary (opens in new tab).

The mission also set additional records.

It had been SpaceX’s first five-engine-burn mission to deploy payloads in orbit, and also the company’s heaviest rideshare payload ever. (BlueWalker 3 weighs an impressive 3,300 pounds (1,500 kilograms), Anderson said.)

“Among our most complex missions,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote of the flight on Twitter (opens in new tab).

Meet BlueWalker 3 from AST SpaceMobile

While SpaceX’s main aim for Saturday’s launch was to include 34 new Starlink satellites to its growing constellation in orbit, AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 satellite stood out for both its size and ambitious mission.

The satellite, that may measure 693 square feet (64 square meters) when fully unfolded, may be the largest commercial antenna array launched into space. Its mission: to check new technology made to provide global mobile phone service right to users from space. The target is to complete coverage gaps and offer seamless high-speed phone and data service in underserved areas.

“The key reason why our satellite is large is basically because to be able to talk to a low-power, low internal strength phone, you merely require a large antenna using one side with lots of power, therefore that is clearly a critical section of our infrastructure,” AST SpaceMobile Chief Strategy Officer Scott Wisniewski told Space.com within an interview. “We think that’s important for communicating directly with regulars handsets, without change to the handset, without extra burdens on an individual.”

It’ll be weeks before AST SpaceMobile commands BlueWalker 3 to deploy its spring-loaded antenna, Wisniewski said. Throughout that time, the business will perform group of health checks to guarantee the satellite is okay, he added.

An artist's illustration of giant AST SpaceMobile's BlueWalker 3 satellite over Africa

An artist’s illustration of AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 cellular phone service satellite in orbit. (Image credit: Nokia/AST SpaceMobile)

AST SpaceMobile has partnered with 25 cellular providers, 10 that will participate in the business’s planned six-month shakedown cruise of BlueWalker 3 to check its capabilities across six continents all over the world. Those partners include providers like Vodaphone, Rakuten Mobile and Orange, and a potential reach of just one 1.8 million phone users, Wisniewski said. Earlier come early july, the business received an FCC license to check BlueWalker 3’s service in Texas and Hawaii in the usa.

To be able to provide complete coverage, AST SpaceMobile will require several satellite. “This is actually the culmination of sort of the R&D stage of our company before we continue to production satellites next year,” Wisniewski said.

The BlueWalker 3 satellite is seen deployed on Earth with AST SpaceMobile staff around it in a clean room

The BlueWalker 3 satellite sometimes appears deployed on the planet. It’s the largest commercial communications array delivered to space. (Image credit: SpaceX)

The business plans to check out BlueWalker 3 with five operational satellites in 2023. It ultimately aims to create a constellation of at the very least 100 giant satellites to supply complete coverage.

AST SpaceMobile isn’t alone in its quest for cellular phone coverage from space. The business Lynk Global is focusing on an identical project and Elon Musk unveiled last month that SpaceX is teaming up with T-Mobile to supply cellular service using its Starlink satellites.

Because of the size, AST SpaceMobile’s satellites could be noticeable to skywatchers from the bottom plus some astronomers have criticized the program because of its potential effect on telescope observations from the bottom, in accordance with a New Scientist report (opens in new tab). If that complaint been there as well, that’s because it’s one that’s dogged SpaceX’s own Starlink constellation once that company began launching a large number of them at the same time.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 booster standing atop a drone ship at night

SpaceX’s most-flown Falcon 9 rocket yet sometimes appears atop the drone ship a Shortfall Of Gravitas in the Atlantic Ocean following its 14th launch and landing on Sept. 10, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)

About 8.five minutes after launching the BlueWalker 3 and Starlink satellites, the initial stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket returned to Earth for a pinpoint landing on the business’s droneship A Shortfall Of Gravitas in the Atlantic Ocean. The landing set a fresh record for the amount of launches for a Falcon 9 booster.

Before Saturday’s flight, the Falcon 9 stage launched eight different Starlink missions, and also SpaceX’s first astronaut test flight for NASA (called Demo-2) in-may 2020; the ANASIS-2 satellite for South Korea in July 2020; the uncrewed CRS-21 cargo mission to the International Space Station for NASA in December 2020, along with the Transporter 1 and Transporter 3 rideshare missions in January 2021 and January 2022, respectively.

When Elon Musk unveiled the workhorse Falcon 9 Block 5 booster in 2018, he said SpaceX’s goal was to fly them at the very least 10 times. With each subsequent flight, the business has pushed its boundaries for rocket reusability within its effort to lessen the expense of spaceflight.

A view of SpaceX's Starlink satellites on Falcon 9

A view of the 34 Starlink satellites aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket during its Sept. 10, 2022 launch. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Similarly, SpaceX has continued to cultivate how big is its Starlink constellation, along with the amount of countries and regions of coverage recently. In August, Royal Caribbean announced (opens in new tab) it’ll be using Starlink aboard most of its cruise lines by 2023, with SpaceX already offering services for RVs, boats and homes all over the world.

The business has launched a lot more than 3,200 satellites since 2019, with thousands more ahead. SpaceX plans to perform its initial constellation with 12,000 Starlinks in orbit and contains requested permission to improve that around 30,000 satellites.

On Sunday, Sept. 11, SpaceX plans to launch just one more Starlink mission. That flight, that will carry 54 Starlink satellites, is scheduled to launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 10: 53 p.m. EDT (0253 GMT).You can watch that launch go on Space.com at liftoff time.

Saturday’s launch marked the 41st of the entire year for SpaceX. It had been the business’s 179th launch overall.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebookand Instagram.

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Tariq may be the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first being an intern and staff writer, and later being an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, along with skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com’s Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was an employee reporter for The LA Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He could be also an Eagle Scout (yes, he’s got the area Exploration merit badge) and visited Space Camp four times as a youngster and a fifth time being an adult. He’s got journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and NY University. To see his latest project, it is possible to follow Tariq onTwitter.

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