SpaceX kicks off the new year with 60 more Starlink satellites

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The LEO juggernaut that is SpaceX has thundered into the new year with a successful launch of 60 more Starlink satellites. This is its third batch to be launched, and makes it the world’s largest satellite operator, for now.

Starlink launch
SpaceX has launched another 60 Starlink satellites. Photo: SpaceX

The launch took place yesterday evening, January 6th 2020, at 21:19 EST. The launch took place at the Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The Falcon 9 rocket delivered the satellites to an orbit at 290km above the Earth’s surface.

Over the next few days and weeks, SpaceX will be checking comms with each and every new satellite, as well as using their onboard boosters to maneuver them into their correct orbits. Reportedly, one of the constellation sent up last night was painted with an experimental coating, to investigate whether this would help avoid interference with celestial observations.

The successful deployment of these 60 satellites adds to the two previous launches seen over the course of 2019, putting the SpaceX fleet at 182 orbiting satellites. It makes SpaceX now the owner of the world’s largest satellite fleet.

Reusing Falcon 9

The satellites were launched on top of a Falcon 9 first stage, one that has been reused a total of four times now. This is the second time SpaceX has demonstrated the reusability of the Falcon 9, having launched its last batch of Starlink payload on board a thrice previously used rocket.

SpaceX confirmed that this particular Falcon 9 first stage had been previously used on a Starlink mission, on the Iridium-8 mission and also on the Telestar 18 VANTAGE mission.

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The first stage was successfully landed on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ droneship. This makes a total of 48 successful landings of orbital rocket boosters by SpaceX.

SpaceX also uses two other retrieval ships, the Ms. Chief and Ms. Tree, equipped with large nets to attempt to collect the farings from their launches. Ms. Tree was apparently on duty, although there’s no word just yet as to whether she caught the parts.

What’s next?

SpaceX’s network development is proceeding at a blistering pace. Already, the company has permission to put up 12,000 units, but has previously mooted 30,000 or even 40,000 as an eventual target. Although the network is not expected to be fully operational this year, the company is looking to start some regional broadband services before the end of 2020.

spaceX starlink
Two more 60 payload launches could take place before the end of January. Photo: SpaceX

As such, we could see two more batches of 60 satellite being deployed this month alone. Clearly SpaceX is keen to get a jump on OneWeb and Kuiper, both of whom are yet to really begin launching in bulk. OneWeb is slightly ahead in the race, and plans to put up around 30 satellites a month over the course of 2020.

However, in terms of first past the post, it looks like SpaceX is onto a winner for now.

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