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Mega Constellations Of US Spacecraft And Advanced Means Of Their Launch

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Mega Constellations Of US Spacecraft And Advanced Means Of Their Launch


Written by Captain 1st Rank D. Dlugotsky, candidate of technical sciences; Captain V. Duga, candidate of technical sciences; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review 2020 #10, translated by Mona Lita exclusively for SouthFront

The development of weapons, including high-precision weapons, follows the path of integrating space assets into the control loop. In addition, space systems based on small spacecraft (SSC) weighing up to 500 kg are currently being actively developed. Analysis of the dynamics of launches of such systems all over the world shows that their share among the total number of launched spacecraft is steadily increasing (over the past ten years, from 35 to 81%). The use of small spacecraft makes it possible to form satellite constellations (SC) of tens, hundreds and even thousands of satellites. For example, the plans of SpaceX – Space Exploration Technologies Corporation declare the deployment of SC from 12 thousand SSC. According to the foreign classification, such SCs in which the number of devices exceeds 100 units are designated by the prefix “mega” (MSC).

As part of the MSC programs, SpaceX, Planet Labs, Spir Global and One Web are launching Star-Link spacecraft – communications, Dove – Earth remote sensing, Lemur-2 – meteorology and One Web – communications (Internet). As of April 2020, the following were launched: 360 spacecraft – Starlink, 306 – Dove, 115 – Lemur-2 and 71 – One Web 1.

Table 1. Main performance characteristics of small spacecraft from orbital mega constellations

Mega Constellations Of US Spacecraft And Advanced Means Of Their Launch

Click to see the full-size image

Such companies as Teleset, Amazon, Satellogic, Swarm Technologies and others are also working on the creation of MSC.

In addition to these programs conducted by civilian companies, there are US Department of Defense programs that create such constellations. For example, in January 2020 the Space Development Agency (SDA) announced the creation of an MSC to solve the problems of detecting ballistic missile launches (National Defense Space Architecture). The agency plans to deploy several MSCs at an altitude of 800-1200 km. As well-known tactical and technical characteristics for the spacecraft being developed, the following requirements are highlighted: for mass – hundreds of kilograms and a period of active existence – 5 years.

The total number of craft in constellations can reach several thousand. However, the specified program is at the stage of formation, and MSCs of civilian companies are already operating in low-earth orbit, some of which are already providing services.

The first and most obvious advantage of using mega-constellations, as opposed to the satellite constellations deployed at present, is the coverage of the entire earth’s surface, therefore the listed companies declare the global nature of the services provided through their MSCs. Simulation results show that to create an SC capable of global coverage of the earth’s surface, it is necessary that about 120 spacecraft be in a near-circular orbit with an altitude of 500 km. The Planet Labs company, which has an MSC of 150 spacecraft in orbit, signed a contract with the US National Aerospace Intelligence Agency (NRO – National Reconnaissance Office) on October 15, 2019 to sell images of the earth’s surface from its Dove spacecraft. SpaceX also does not hide the fact that they would like to see the US Air Force as their main customer. There is information about trials to evaluate the capabilities of the Starlink SC under the Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet (DEUCSI) program in 2019. According to foreign sources, in 2021 there is a plan to equip the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Armed Forces with means of communication, receiving traffic from the MSC spacecraft.

The miniaturization of spacecraft and a decrease in their mass influenced the means of their launching. The launch of the small spacecraft for the formation of the exhaust gas is carried out both by separate launch vehicles (LV) (the Starlink spacecraft – the Falcon-9 launch vehicle (Falcon-9), the One Web spacecraft – the Soyuz-2 launch vehicle and as associated loads (“Lemur-2” and “Dove”). These are mainly medium and heavy launch vehicles, but to increase the launch efficiency, the use of ultra-light vehicles is the promising new direction. According to Northrop-Grumman analysts, the world is currently developing such missiles in more than a hundred projects.

In the USA, launch vehicles such as the “Electron”, “Vector-R” and “Astra” are distinguished promising models.

The most successful project is the creation of the “Electron” launch vehicle by the “Rocketlab” company. The rocket was put into operation in 2017, and by the end of this year, the number of launches carried out with its help should exceed three dozen.

DARPA – Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency organized a competition. For this purpose, a launch vehicle was created, the launch of which is possible from any spaceport with high efficiency. As part of the competition, 18 companies had to submit projects of launch vehicles capable of two launches within two weeks from two launch sites. In the course of the competition, the state (represented by the Ministry of Defense) amps up the participants with a monetary reward (2 million for the first successful launch and 10 million dollars for the second).

Among the finalists of the competition were launch vehicles “Astra”, “Vector-R”, the firms “Vector Space”, “Launcher One” of the “Virgin Orbit” company.

In 2017, two suborbital launches of the Vector-R LV were carried out, which were recognized as successful, and in 2018, the Astra Space company performed two partially successful suborbital launches of the Astra LV prototypes.

In 2019, the launch tests of the Launcher One air launch vehicle were carried out. The first flight test of the rocket, which took place on May 25, 2020, ended in failure.

Table 2. Main performance characteristics of promising ultra-light launch vehicles

Mega Constellations Of US Spacecraft And Advanced Means Of Their Launch

Click to see the full-size image

Thus, in the future, the MSC will make it possible to provide communications, navigation, space reconnaissance data, meteorological information, etc., to the troops directly in the theater of operations, including at the tactical level. The armed forces in possession of weapons systems built with the participation of these groups will have a number of undoubted advantages over other armed forces that do not have access to MSC data. But when creating them, it is necessary to solve a number of problematic issues, such as control of a large number of spacecraft, utilization of those that have failed, delay in data transmission, and many others. In addition, according to a number of activities carried out by the US Department of Defense, it can be concluded that there is difficulty in the practical application of the target effect obtained from the MSC LV. However, there is no doubt that the future belongs to them.

For all spacecraft, the number of successfully launched vehicles is reflected, excluding partially successful and emergency ones.


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Lone Ranger

I dont buy that you need 12000 sats to cover the whole planet with net acess from space.
These sound more like space mines or artificial debry fields.
They are already obstructing astronomy…
So who benefits from this?


If you see Putin ordering you to do things, don’t do it.

Lone Ranger

I dont launch sats from home.
Dont worry :)


You promise?

Lone Ranger



But it’s Putin!
He will Novichok him, won’t he?
Oh what the hell. after a good doze of Novichok @Lone Ranger returns to work getting more handsome and more energetic.

Here, I brought some glue, let’s forget Putin and go to orbit!


Ahh I don’t use homeless people drugs since college, but when you feel short on budget, try tantum rosa, it’s close to lsd. Just for your liver sake take some fosfatidilcoline in before cause it kicks like a thai boxer.


I make my own LSD. Well, something pretty close using Morning Glory seeds.
Oooh! I just remembered that I haven’t done it for some time, gotta get to work!


Be careful, getting too high can lead to heading to a satelite


Never had this problem before, but now ar$#holes cluttered the space with so many sats so you may be right.


You know what they say, if you can’t beat them, join them. Or it was if you can’t compete with them, sabotage them. Don’t remembee… just wear a bike helmet.


You know that orbits are reserved.
What can a 5 kg sat do other than occupying that orbit and prevent others from using it?

In case of 100 or 1200 mid size sats, all that I can think of is to have a real time picture of the entire planet at any given moment, meaning %100 military application.

USSR and Russia managed to cover their entire territory (very difficult task because of highers latitudes) for live comms with just 164 satellites in 3 different Molniya orbits from ’65 till now. Needless to say they were not in orbit at the same time.

Pave Way IV

Terrestrial coverage is only half the function. The idea of MSCs (at least for StarLink) was to eliminate the need for an uplink/downlink to ground repeater or terrestrial routing stations. The only two ground-satellite links are at either end of the conversation without any terrestrial routing. The satellites are networked together and can route data between themselves and neighbors (laser) all the way around the planet to the receiving station(s). It’s intelligent routing – like the internet – that automatically accommodates rerouting for a malfunctioning/missing satellite or heavy data communication traffic on particular links. The number of satellites is high because it depends on 1) always having at least one moving satellite over any given piece of ground at all times, and 2) that satellite being able to ‘see’ it’s six neighbors, all of them moving as well and in different orbital paths.


I understand what you say, and the idea of a constellation functioning like internet servers makes sense, at least in theory. The issue is something else.
At the moment, there’s internet via sat (only receiving for home consumers) positioned in Geo Stationary orbits (~34.000 km). For cheaper services you receive data using a dish and relevant hardware, but without dish there’s no signal received. Packets are sent using other means like a land line or cellular and like TV sat channels, you don’t need to change the position of the dish because the satellite position is almost fixed in the sky. With much more money, you’ll have a 2-way comm that comes with different (almost a van-sized) hardware.

The system they say will bring free internet to everyone (why would they do it in the first place) is said to need just a simple hardware to boost the signal and just like cell towers, your signal jumps from one sat to another when the first one moves away from you and another one gets closer. No dish will be involved because it would be useless as satellite orbits are much closer to earth and therefore move much faster. But the orbit is not that close.
For instance, let’s take a look at Starlink, using 1200 sats in 550km orbit (of which, about a third is atmosphere). I assume you are familiar enough with radio communications and it’s limitations. Do you think there can be a consumer device for 2-way communication with such sat with the required specs (affordable, small enough, low energy consumption)? AFAIK they still need a dish (just like the old ones) and there moments of total disconnectivity, at least until they finish the full constellation. Nothing one can use on-the-go.

The other matter is how many of these sats will be on any given orbit. Knowing their declared altitude (550km) and the limit of earth’s atmosphere, the minimum number would be 12 (their direct LOS altitude never goes below ~225km, well above atmosphere) which gives us about 100 different orbits, one of which will be equatorial and 99 others in various inclinations or various AoP or both.

An even worse case is One Web, everything I said about the consumer device (let’s say modem for my simpleton sake) applies here much harder (altitude 1200km), in this case you’ll need 8 sats in any given orbit to have direct LoS well above atmosphere, total individual orbits 75.
Both cases might have more sats on any orbit and less individual orbits, I don’t know the exact number.

Now both systems will work absolutely fantastic with a few powerful ground stations (decades old tech, reasonable sized sats), but their use for consumers remain unclear for me.
for the other two systems with such tiny sats I cannot think of anything since the batteries, antenna and solar panels to send a simple beep would be much heavier than the declared weight of the sats (4-6 kg).

I guess I embarrassed myself enough by showing what a know-it-all person I am for the night, now to tell you something funny, some schmucks here thought Trump was going to give them free internet on their smartphones that works on magic, they were so excited that already tasted freedom as soon as the news of the plan came out.

Pave Way IV


Oneweb went bankrupt and has been sold to the Brits and one of their MI-6 cutouts. As far as I know, they only promised to bring ‘internet access’ to everyone, not ‘free internet’ to everyone. They’re both very much a for-profit business with eager and willing government/mil customers. Both will end up being expensive and they’ll limit demand by pricing, but they’ll probably have humanitarian programs where say a small village can share an antenna. For a while, anyway. Nice ≠ profit.

Antennas (at least for Starlink) are dinner-plate-sized “UFOs on a stick” that don’t need repositioning during use – they automatically connect to the closest (moving) satellite. Presumably, once the sky is filled with their satellites, there will always be one within ,say, a 60° cone overhead. No idea about the exact specs.

Sent using free Trump internet for iPhone

comment image
Paveway… hello? PAVEWAY! Pick up, you bastard!


Yeah, I saw Starlink’s website and their UFO on stick antenna. What I didn’t get is if it’s a 2-way connection or just receiver.
Anyway, my point was 1200 sats are waay overkill unless they intend other uses for the constellation.

I’m serious about free internet. Since 2009 there’s talk that the good-hearted USG will bring Iranians free high speed internet on their cell phones and computers just like [snap fingers] to bypass the evil filtering. Right now the bulk of users for some free VPN tools (like Ultrasurf or FreeGate -if it’s still alive- who receive funds from state department to increase their servers) are Iranians. I’m sure you’ll sleep better at nights knowing horny Iranian teenagers can download porn at 5-10kBps courtesy of your hard-earned tax dollars. Do I see a wild smile? That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

Pave Way IV

“What I didn’t get is if it’s a 2-way connection or just receiver.”

Two-way, but uplink limited to 5 mbps, downlink several times faster. This is roughly equivalent to current U.S. plain-vanilla retail broadband service (ADSL or cable). There are also different, larger fixed ground stations meant as terrestrial internet interchanges/routers. Again, both uplink and downlink, but 100’s or 1000’s of mb/sec.

“Anyway, my point was 1200 sats are waay overkill unless they intend other uses for the constellation.”

I think ‘other uses’ is a given – they’re pretty close-lipped about Starlink’s real capabilities. I wonder why?

“I’m sure you’ll sleep better at nights knowing horny Iranian teenagers can download porn at 5-10kBps courtesy of your hard-earned tax dollars.”

5-10kBps is approx. 50-100 kbits/sec., which is only a little faster than the theoretical max of old analog phone line modems running at 57 kpbs. Iranian teens must be watching anime porn. Deviants! But all things considered, it’s probably one of the better uses of my tax dollars. I mean the free internet, not the anime porn.


With that speed what is the attraction of buying that expensive service (I read it’s about $99 per month, am I right?) over regular land lines, at least where it exists?
It definitely has a second, hush-hush use.

Hee hee! A nostalgic trip to the days of dial-up modems and their distinctive noise, messages saying “evaluating your username and password”, “authenticating” [heartbeats rises slightly] and the best one, “connected”.

The 5-10kBps is the result of using Ultrasurf and similar tools. Waiting hours or days to download a few minutes of low-rez grainy video (this tool disconnects repeatedly too). That’s the price of being horny.
Without it the speed is in the range of 20-150Mbps depending on the plan and wiring (copper cables or fiber optics in the buildings).

I wish they did it for porn. I’m not sure it’s the best use of your tax for us since they do it mainly to bring their your “news” outlets and some filtered social networks to our screens and build networks to coordinate for the “right” moments, like presidential elections.

Pave Way IV

I’m not sure it’s the best use of your tax for us since they do it mainly to bring their your “news” outlets…”

Our “news” outlets? Oh hell, that’s some hardcore porn right there. I apologize on behalf of the U.S. [once again…]

Tommy Jensen

Goldman Sachs?…………………………….LOL.


It’s all scam (period) bezos,musk,branson = fake x

These transformers can’t even combined build a supersonic passenger jet,let alone orbit!


Plus with their radiation they cause heart palpitations, heart failure = killing sensitive people en masse.

Pave Way IV

Thanks for this translation. There’s a couple of sentences at the end that are kind of confusing that could use clarification, e.g., “…In addition, according to a number of activities carried out by the US Department of Defense, it can be concluded that there is difficulty in the practical application of the target effect obtained from the MSC LV.” Not sure what they’re referring to. The target effect of a launch vehicle carrying MSC or otherwise, is to carry those satellites into orbit. That’s its practical application. Perhaps the authors meant the practical application of the MSC itself – which would also be odd considering the ‘practical’ near real-time digital communications capability. It would be like saying that a hypothetical new type of radio with more capabilities than the current ones (the target effect) doesn’t demonstrate practicality if there’s a number of projects in the works to show its application.

For all spacecraft, the number of successfully launched vehicles is reflected, excluding partially successful and emergency ones.

While technically correct, saying that a launch vehicle puts launched vehicles into orbit is confusing to english speakers. The ‘launched vehicles’ are specifically satellites.

And while the article is not meant to be comprehensive, I’m surprised at no mention of launch vehicle reusability. While Russia has always excelled at heavy-lift rocket engines, they’ve only began their reusable launch vehicle program in 2020 (Amur – operational in 2026).

Tommy Jensen

Well I guess its a discussion about the product and not the truck who transported it to the supermarket ;-D.

Tommy Jensen

The MSC altitude is stated to be 650km. This is the upper layer of the Thermosphere in 1500C to 2000C.
Is this correct?
The Web is stated to altitude 1200km which is 500km inside the Exosphere exposed to Van Allen belt heavy radiation bombardment. Is that true too?

Some claims Space-X is a one more Goldman Sachs profit scheme of the “make believe” kind like “Clima Change” and “Our man on the Moon”. We all know how stupid we the sheeple are.
Just challenging the narrative. comment image

Pave Way IV

“This is the upper layer of the Thermosphere in 1500C to 2000C. Is this correct?

Even hotter than that, I think. But this is very thin atmospheric gasses is in a near vacuum, so heat isn’t conducted to orbiting objects like it is on the surface here. The Space Station orbits just over 400km. The same solar radiation that heats the exosphere also heats the sun-facing side of the space station, but it doesn’t absorb anywhere near enough to be a problem, and the excess heat is shed on the non-sun-facing side. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermosphere

The van Allen belts are at the inner third of the exosphere, and the inner belt is just outside the thermosphere from 700km to 7000km. Most of the solar radiation streams around the outer belt, with some going into the poles. Satellites in high orbits are subject to increased solar radiation, but nothing like that outside of the outer belt or outside of the magnetosphere.

“Some claims Space-X is just one more Goldman Sachs profit scheme of the “make believe”…”

Profit scheme” are the most important words in your comment.


Fake,fake,snake fake,fake X!


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Sounds neat but, they can´t get the F-35 to work and are relying on Russian rockets to build the space station, how are they going to manage all of this? Sounds like fantasy.

Raptar Driver

They can’t reach “Space” , other than the one between their ears.


americans arent allowed to simply pollute the orbit as they wish and they better be ready that when they do try to pollute the orbit that all of it will be taken down

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