Our first look at SpaceX’s ‘Mini’ Starlink in Orbit

A satellite-on-satellite view of the fully deployed Starlink V2 Mini in orbit.
Image: HEO Robotics

Say cheese: a recent inductee Starlink V2 satellite unwittingly posed for an orbital snapshot taken by a satellite imaging company. The image revealed the new look of the miniature satellites in action, which SpaceX hopes will boost broadband capacity in its Internet constellation.

This week, Australia-based HEO Robotics released a blurry image of one of SpaceX’s next-generation satellites in low earth orbit. “This was our first sighting of V2 Minis,” Dane Brumm, communications officer at HEO Robotics, told Gizmodo in an email. “Through our photo, we are able to identify two solar panels that we did not know existed before, which is a noticeable difference from other similar Starlink satellites.”

Image for the article titled New image is our first look at SpaceX's 'Mini' Starlink in orbit

Image: HEO Robotics

Actually one of the noticeable new tweaks on Starlink V2 Minis is its two solar panels, one on each side. Ffirst-generation Starlinks have only one solar panel.

The image was taken at a distance of about 86 miles (139 kilometers) by a HEO Robotics satellite. “We are able to identify the object as a Starlink satellite through TLEs (two-line element set), which is essentially available tracking information indicating where space objects are in their orbits,” said Brumm. “We can then refer to open source data to figure out characteristics like how big it needs to be and what its intended shape needs to be to confirm that the object in our image is the Starlink satellite.”

HEO Robotics provides satellite imagery of objects in orbit, as well as satellite inspection services to government and commercial operators. The company has imaged over a hundred items after they arrived their orbital destinations and later used its software to identify the objects. For the latest image, HEO Robotics captured a Starlink V2 Mini just a week after it was deployed into low Earth orbit.

SpaceX launched 21 miniaturized versions of its next-generation Starlink satellites, dubbed V2 Minis, on February 27. The satellites were stowed aboard a Falcon 9 rocket that took off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The company introduced V2 Minis to the world via Twitter a day before they were due to launch. The V2 Minis are equipped with more powerful antennas and high-speed frequencies, “which will enable Starlink to provide ~4x more capacity per satellite than previous iterations,” SpaceX wrote on Twitter. The V2 Minier also comes with argon-powered Hall thrusters, a cheaper alternative to xenon propellant more commonly used for satellite propulsion systems.

SpaceX hopes the V2 Minis will temporarily fill the gap for increasing demand on its Starlink network until the company can launch the full-size version of its next-generation satellites. Unfortunately, the full-size V2s cannot fit into a Falcon 9 rocket. Instead, SpaceX is waiting the launch of its Starship mega rocket that are designed to handle larger payloads.

Until that happens, SpaceX has designed a smaller version of the V2s, which recently made their orbital debut and are enjoying their time in the spotlight before the big boys come out to play.

More: Everything we noticed during SpaceX’s first major test of the Starship Megarocket

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