Published: Fri, May 24, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Elon Musk's SpaceX launches 60 satellites for space-based internet network

Elon Musk's SpaceX launches 60 satellites for space-based internet network

SpaceX has this morning completed the first successful launch and delivery of 60 small Starlink Satellites, which are Low Earth Orbit (LEO) dwelling spacecraft that could in theory deliver "ultrafast broadband" speeds of up to 1Gbps and low latency times of around 25ms (milliseconds) around the world.

Sixty of the spacecraft will be placed aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, which will blast off into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Thursday, May 23.

SpaceX will need another six missions, Musk said, before Starlink can provide consistent internet coverage for small parts of the world.

Musk's SpaceX isn't the only company trying to launch a megaconstellation of internet-providing satellites.

The payload weighs around 30,000 pounds, which is the heaviest payload that has been delivered by a Falcon 9 rocket. About an hour after liftoff, SpaceX deployed the 60 Starlink satellites in a "very low Earth orbit" of 440 kilometers above the surface. On 16 May SpaceX delayed the launch due to excess upper-level winds. The flat-panel satellites - which were built at SpaceX's development facility in Redmond, Wash. - are created to spread themselves out from the Falcon 9's nose cone like a deck of cards starting about an hour after launch.

It's the company's heaviest ever payload, weighing in at 18.5 tons, according to a tweet by CEO Elon Musk last week.

It was the third flight for this particular booster, marking just the second time SpaceX has flown a Falcon 9 first stage more than twice. They will then all use their onboard propulsion systems to raise their orbits to the operational 550 km altitude.

These satellites will demonstrate the ability to provide high-speed internet connectivity for ground stations with a signal delay of less than 20 milliseconds, which is comparable to cable-connection performance.

The much-awaited and heralded launch of SpaceX's Starlink internet satellite constellation will have to wait until next week.

A flat and compact design that is "significantly more scalable and capable than its first experimental iteration", noted SpaceX in the mission's press kit.

"We think this is a key stepping stone on the way toward establishing a self-sustaining city on Mars and a base on the moon", said billionaire Musk, who is also chief executive officer of automaker Tesla Inc.

Getting SpaceX's full constellation up and running will cost in the ballpark of $10 billion dollars, and Musk has conceded that such efforts have bankrupted others, such as the satellite operator Iridium.

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