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SpaceX puts up 60 internet satellites in orbit at a go

SpaceX Starlink;SpaceX’s 60-Satellite Launch Is Just the Beginning for Ambitious Starlink Project

The broadband constellation could eventually consist of nearly 12,000 satellites.

Last night (May 23), SpaceX lofted the first five dozen members of its Starlink broadband constellation to low-Earth orbit (LEO) using one of the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rockets. Starlink is designed to provide internet connectivity to people around the world, and it will do so using a truly enormous number of satellites.

 

Starlink won’t be able to provide “minor” coverage until about 400 spacecraft are up and running, and “moderate” coverage requires about 800 operational satellites, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said. But the company doesn’t plan to stop at “moderate.”

“In a year and a half, maybe two years, if things go well, SpaceX will probably have more satellites in orbit than all other satellites combined — a majority of the satellites in orbit will be SpaceX,” Musk said last week during a prelaunch teleconference with reporters.

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That milestone will come around Starlink launch number 30, with 1,800 satellites delivered to orbit, he said.

But the number could rise higher still — much higher, in fact. The Federal Communications Commission has granted SpaceX permission to launch a total of nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites.

Musk said SpaceX has taken great pains to ensure the constellation doesn’t pose a collision risk to the other denizens of LEO. For example, he said the Starlink satellites can automatically navigate around other spacecraft and larger pieces of orbital debris, using tracking data provided by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

And this first batch is headed for an operational altitude of 340 miles (550 kilometers) — low enough that they’ll get pulled down to Earth by atmospheric drag in a few years even if SpaceX doesn’t manage to deorbit them intentionally.

“So, I think we’ve got a really solution for making sure that we do not create orbital debris,” he said. “And, worst-case scenario — the good news there is, the atmosphere cleans it up.”

SpaceX isn’t the only company with eyes on a LEO broadband constellation.

Starlink is a key part of Musk’s long-term plan to help humanity colonize Mars. SpaceX hopes to use Starlink revenue to fund the development of Starship and Super Heavy, the spaceship and rocket the company is building to carry people to the Red Planet, Earth’s moon and other solar system destinations.

Each Starlink satellite weighs about 500 lbs. (227 kilograms). Together, the 60 spacecraft made up the heaviest payload that SpaceX has ever launched, Musk said.

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