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SpaceX Delivers First Direct-To-Cell Starlink Satellites Into Orbit

Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX opened its 2024 launch manifest on Jan. 2 with a Falcon 9 mission to continue building its Starlink satellite constellation, including the first spacecraft with direct-to-cellphone communications technology.

The Falcon 9 lifted off at 10:44 p.m. EST from SpaceX’s West Coast launch site at Vandenberg SFB in California. Among the 21 Starlink satellites aboard were six that include direct-to-cellphone technology. SpaceX in August 2022 announced a partnership with T-Mobile to connect unmodified smartphones with Starlink satellites.

“Today’s launch is a pivotal moment for this groundbreaking alliance with SpaceX and our global partners around the world, as we work to make dead zones a thing of the past,” Mike Katz, president of T-Mobile Marketing, Strategy and Products, said in a statement.

The service will initially begin with text messaging, with voice and data coverage to follow in the coming years, T-Mobile added.

“The launch of these first direct-to-cell satellites is an exciting milestone for SpaceX to demonstrate our technology,” added Sara Spangelo, SpaceX senior director for Satellite Engineering. “We look forward to rapidly scaling up.”

SpaceX and T-Mobile’s wireless partner operators include Japan’s KDDI, Australia’s Optus, New Zealand’s One NZ, Canada’s Rogers, Switzerland’s Salt, and Entel in Chile and Peru.

SpaceX in November told the FCC it planned to operate 840 direct-to-cell satellites over the next six months. The FCC in December cleared SpaceX to begin testing the direct-to-cell technology in partnership with T-Mobile.

Irene Klotz

Irene Klotz is Senior Space Editor for Aviation Week, based in Cape Canaveral. Before joining Aviation Week in 2017, Irene spent 25 years as a wire service reporter covering human and robotic spaceflight, commercial space, astronomy, science and technology for Reuters and United Press International.