SpaceX deploys another 60 Starlink satellites

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SpaceX has successfully launched its next batch of Starlink satellites this week, taking another firm step towards the company’s ambition for a space-based, worldwide broadband internet service.

Falcon 9 starlink
60 Starlink satellites were successfully launched yesterday. Photo: SpaceX

The Falcon 9 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral at 09:56 local time on Monday. Around an hour later the 60 Starlink satellites deployed into orbit. This is the first non-test group of the Starlink constellation

Previously SpaceX launched some 62 Starlink satellites in two groups as test batches. The first group was launched in February 2018, containing just two of the small sats. The second group, containing 60, was launched in May this year.

Starlink satellites
The Starlink satellites all packed up and ready to go. Photo: SpaceX

Since then, the test group has been undergoing trials of ground-based communication as well as the ability to conduct controlled deorbiting. One of these deorbiting units had something of a close call with the ESA Aeolus satellite earlier this year.

100% demisability

Worries about increased amounts of space junk have been largely averted by SpaceX as this group of 60 new satellites have inbuilt demisability. This means that, at the end of their useful life, they will perform a controlled re-entry and will completely burn up to ensure no orbiting trash is left behind.

Not everyone was happy with the launch of the satellites, however, as some astronomers are calling out SpaceX for disrupting the night sky. Following the launch, sightings of the string of ‘false stars’ were reported all over the world, raising concerns over the future of research and our vision of the night skies.

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Nevertheless, SpaceX intends to continue launching Starlink satellites in huge numbers, and says it aims to provide service to the Northern US and Canada as soon as next year.

A series of firsts

The launch of these satellites marked a series of firsts for both SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket. As well as being the first of the non-test Starlink fleets, this was the first time the fairing of the F9 had been reflown. It had previously been used on the Falcon Heavy Arabsat 6A mission earlier this year.

Falcon 9
This was the 4th mission for this Falcon 9 rocket. Photo: SpaceX

The Falcon 9 first stage in use had been flown on three previous occasions, demonstrating SpaceX’s commitment to reusability of the rocket. It was again caught by the Space X droneship, affectionately named the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’, and will no doubt be used again and again. This, however, was the heaviest payload carried by the Falcon 9 to date.

However, the faring was not so lucky this time. SpaceX called off a two-vessel attempt to catch the fairing due to concerns over adverse sea conditions. However, the company still plans to retrieve the two halves at a later date for additional future use.

SpaceX’s plan to launch huge constellations of LEO satellites is not without its competition. With OneWeb and Kuiper snapping at its heels, SpaceX is only marginally ahead in the race for a small sat constellation. However, its ethos of reusing rockets will help to drive costs down, and could see it pulling ahead in the coming years.

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