SpaceX begins commercial Direct to Cell Starlink constellation with Falcon 9 flight from Vandenberg Space Force Base

A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off at sunset from Vandenberg Space Force Base on the Starlink 8-1 mission on April 6, 2024. Image: SpaceX

For a second time this year, SpaceX is preparing to launch another batch of Starlink satellites that support its Direct to Cell capability. The six spacecraft are among the 21 total satellites which launched on Saturday, April 6, from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) happened at 7:25 p.m. PDT (10:25 EDT, 0225 UTC).

The Falcon 9 first stage booster supporting this mission, tail number B1081 in the SpaceX fleet, launched for a sixth time. It previously supported the launches of NASA’s PACE spacecraft, the Crew-7 astronauts, CRS-29, Transporter-10 and Starlink Group 6-34.

A little more than eight minutes after liftoff, B1081 landed on the SpaceX droneship, ‘Of Course I Still Love You.’ This marked the 88th landing on OCISLY and the 293rd booster landing to date.

A diagram of the Starlink direct-to-cell service. Graphic: SpaceX

Following January’s launch of the first DTC Starlink satellites in January, SpaceX conducted a number of tests using the budding service. Those included sending text messages, making phone calls and posting to social media.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, SpaceX Vice President of Falcon Launch Vehicles, Jon Edwards, said that many more DTC satellites are coming in the first half of the year.

“The Falcon and Starlink teams are working hard to get the first direct-to-cell constellation up by the end of August,” Edwards wrote.

In an email to the Federal Communications Commissions’ (FCC) Satellite Licensing Division, SpaceX director of satellite policy wrote that they are aiming to launch 7,500 DTC Starlinks.

Multiple SpaceX officials have stated that they are working to send 28 Starlinks to low Earth orbit in a single launch by the end of the year. So far, they have launched a batch of 24 satellites once back in February.