SpaceX set a new milestone in Falcon 9 reuse with the latest Starlink satellite launch Nov. 24 as the company seeks permission to deploy Starlink satellites into a new orbit.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 9:13 p.m. Eastern. The rocket’s upper stage released its payload of 60 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit about 15 minutes later.
The rocket’s first stage landed on a droneship in the Atlantic, completing its record-setting seventh launch. The stage first flew in September 2018 launching the Telstar 18 Vantage satellite, followed by the final Iridium mission in January 2019. The rocket then launched four Starlink missions starting in May 2019, most recently Aug. 18.
The launch was also the 100th overall for the Falcon 9, a total that includes a June 2015 launch failure but not the destruction of another on the pad during preparations for a static-fire test in September 2016.
SpaceX has now launched 955 Starlink satellites, of which 895 are in orbit. The company has started a beta test of the broadband internet service provided by those satellites in the northern U.S. and southern Canada. During the webcast of this launch, the company said it would expand that beta test “in a notable way” in late January or early February.
To date SpaceX has launched Starlink satellites into orbits at an inclination of 53 degrees, maximizing coverage over mid-latitude regions but excluding higher latitudes, including Alaska, northern Canada and northern Europe. The company’s original authorization from the Federal Communications Commission called for other satellites at higher orbits and inclinations, but the company filed a proposed modification in April that would lower all the satellites into orbits between 540 and 570 kilometers, including those in high-inclination orbits.
Starlink is the name of a satellite network that the private spaceflight company SpaceX is developing to provide low-cost internet to remote locations. While SpaceX eventually hopes to have as many as 12,000 satellites in this so-called megaconstellation, the size and scale of the project have flustered astronomers and amateur skywatchers, who fear that the bright, orbiting objects will interfere with observations of the universe.
The total cost of the decade-long project to design, build, and deploy the constellation was estimated by SpaceX in May 2018 to be about US$10 billion. Product development began in 2015, with the first two prototype test-flight satellites launched in February 2018. A second set of test satellites and the first large deployment of a piece of the constellation occurred on May 24, 2019 UTC when the first 60 operational satellites were launched.The SpaceX satellite development facility in Redmond, Washington, houses the Starlink research, development, manufacturing, and on-orbit control operations.
As of April 22, 2020 – with 417 satellites of the constellation in orbit – SpaceX is targeting service in the Northern U.S. and Canada by late 2020. SpaceX is launching 60 satellites at a time, aiming to deploy 1,584 of the 250 kg (550 lb) spacecraft to provide near-global service by late 2021 or 2022. However, these are only internal projections and not set dates.
Concerns have been raised about the long-term danger of space debris resulting from placing thousands ofsatellites in orbits above 600 km (370 miles) and a possible impact on astronomy although the Starlink satellites orbit at 550 km (340 mi)] and SpaceX is reportedly attempting to solve the latter issue. On Starlink 2, one of the satellites has an experimental coating to make it less reflective, and thus impact ground-based astronomical observations less.
However,it must be observed that this is a huge undertaking which will make space more accessible to humankind and it will also create internet connectivity all over the globe. More projects like this will make public and spafce technology embrace each other for further advancements.