After a few false starts, SpaceX has successfully launched its first full batch of Starlink internet satellites. A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the satellites lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station overnight, and it deployed the satellites a short time later. 60 satellites may sound like a lot, but this is just a small piece of what SpaceX hopes will become a massive network of thousands of satellites that deliver internet access throughout the world.
SpaceX’s first attempt to launch the Starlink mission was stymied by weather, but maybe that was a stroke of luck. Its second attempt late last week was put on hold when the company decided the satellites need a software update. It’s much easier to do that on the ground than when the satellites are in space.
The launch went off without a hitch. The first stage booster came down for a perfect landing on SpaceX’s drone barge. The company even recovered the fairings that cover the payload to make it more aerodynamic. Of course, the satellites are the most important part of the mission; the rest is just SpaceX showing off.
Each satellite weighs about 500 pounds (227 kilograms), making this the heaviest payload ever flown on a Falcon 9. After releasing the spacecraft from the second stage vehicle, SpaceX confirmed that all 60 had come online. The next stage is activating the solar panels to keep the Starlink constellation alive.
Successful deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed! pic.twitter.com/eYrLocCiws
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 24, 2019
Launching 60 satellites in a single batch is impressive, but Starlink will eventually feature more than 12,000 orbiting nodes. Traditional satellite internet suffers from extreme latency of a second or more, but Starlink will feature more than 7,500 in very-low-earth orbit (VLEO) to reduce latency on the ground.
As for when you can use Starlink, don’t cancel with your current ISP just yet. CEO Elon Musk has said it will take another six launches (a total of 420 satellites) before Starlink is usable anywhere in the world. We’ll need a further six launches after that for “significant coverage.” The system could come online sooner than many expected, though. Musk has said he hopes to have 2,000 satellites launched this year. That would be more than enough to flip the switch.
SpaceX sees Starlink as an essential new venture that could fund valuable research. The company projects revenues from Starlink internet subscriptions could reach as much as $ 3 billion per year.