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SpaceX to launch first direct-to-cell Starlink satellites - TWIRL #144

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We have a lot of launches from China this week but perhaps the most interesting development is that SpaceX will be launching the first direct-to-cell Starlink satellites. These will allow customers to connect their phones and other devices directly to the satellites.

Monday, 25 December

  • Who: Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA)

  • What: Long March 11H
  • When: 11:20 p.m. UTC
  • Where: South China Sea
  • Why: This rocket will be launching a satellite called Xianggang from a ship called Bo Run Jiu Zhou. The satellite is Hong Kong’s first high-res remote-sensing AI satellite.

Tuesday, 26 December

  • Who: CNSA

  • What: Long March 3B/E
  • When: 3:10 a.m. UTC
  • Where: Xichang Satellite Launch Centre
  • Why: This rocket will launch two BeiDou navigation satellites into orbit for the Chinese government. These two satellites will be the last BeiDou-3M satellites and will complete the medium Earth orbit component of the third phase of BeiDou.

Wednesday, 27 December

  • Who: ExPace

  • What: Kuaizhou 1A
  • When: 6:57 a.m. UTC
  • Where: Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre
  • Why: In this launch, ExPace will be launching an unknown payload into orbit.

  • Who: Roscosmos
  • What: Soyuz 2.1v
  • When: 7:00 a.m. UTC
  • Where: Plesetsk Cosmodrome
  • Why: Roscosmos will use the Soyuz 2.1v rocket to launch a classified satellite called Kosmos. It is most likely to be a Razbeg reconnaissance satellite capable of taking high-res images for civilian and military purposes.

Friday, 29 December

  • Who: SpaceX

  • What: Falcon 9 B5
  • When: 5:09 - 8:32 a.m. UTC
  • Where: Vandenberg AFB
  • Why: SpaceX will launch 21 Starlink satellites into a low Earth orbit. Interestingly, this is the first launch of direct-to-cell Starlink satellites which will allow customers to connect their devices directly to the satellites. This batch of satellites is called Starlink Group 7-9, this can be used to find the satellites on tracking apps.

Saturday, 30 December

  • Who: ExPace

  • What: Kuaizhou 1A
  • When: 12:00 a.m. UTC
  • Where: Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre
  • Why: ExPace will launch an extremely low Earth orbit satellite for Chaodigui for China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation and EOI Space. These companies are apparently working on a beyond-line-of-sight idea that could bring satellites closer to Earth than they are today.


The first launch last week was iSpace’s Hyperbola 1 rocket carrying the DEAR 1 satellite from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre. The satellite will be used for optical observations and for carrying life science payloads.

Next, SpaceX launched a batch of Starlink satellites and the first stage of the Falcon 9 performed a landing ready to be reused.

Last week we also got a launch from Blue Origin which we haven’t seen in a while. The company launched the New Shepard rocket carrying 3 payload from NASA and education institutes.

Finally, Firefly Aerospace launched the fourth Firefly Alpha rocket from Vandenberg AFB carrying the Electronically Steered Antenna from Lockheed Martin.

That’s all for this week, check back next time.

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