SpaceX Launches 60 Satellites for Elon Musk’s Starlink Internet Constellation

The 60 satellites packed tightly into a fairing.

The 60 satellites packed tightly into a fairing.
Image: SpaceX

With one launch in the books and potentially dozens still to go, SpaceX has begun its build-out of the ambitious Starlink internet constellation—a series of interconnected satellites designed to deliver high-speed internet to paying customers around the globe.

The 60 Starlink satellites, each weighing 500 pounds (227 kg), were released to low Earth orbit (LEO) yesterday at around 11:32 pm ET, SpaceX confirmed in a series of tweets. Together, the tightly packed satellites weighed 13.6 metric tons, “making this launch the heaviest mission for SpaceX to date,” according to SpaceNews.

The satellites were deposited at an altitude of 400 kilometers (250 miles) by a Falcon 9 rocket that launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The reusable rocket booster successfully landed upright on a droneship in the Atlantic ocean nine minutes after launch.

Once complete, the Starlink constellation of satellites would transmit signals for high-speed internet access to paying customers. The massive telecommunications system should go online once 400 satellites are in orbit and activated, but Starlink will reach “significant operational capacity” at 800 satellites, in the words of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, as reported by SpaceNews. The private space firm will need to conduct at least a dozen or more launches before this can happen. Musk said Starlink will become “economically viable” at 1,000 units. Incredibly, as many as 12,000 satellites could one day comprise the entire Starlink constellation. Starlink is expected to go online by the mid 2020s.

Indeed, this venture, announced in 2015, could represent an important new revenue stream for SpaceX. Musk has previously stated that monies generated by the Starlink project will be used to fund eventual missions to Mars. The internet service enabled by Starlink is expected to be low cost and accessible to remote areas of the world where internet is hard to come by.

Two experimental Starlink satellites were launched to orbit in February 2018. Yesterday’s deployment of 60 satellites is the first build-out of the system.

Each Starlink satellite is designed to last no longer than five years, after which time it’s supposed to fall into and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. This should reduce space debris, and allow the private space firm to replace them with more advanced versions, per a SpaceX press kit. The satellites are also equipped with technology to help them avoid collisions in LEO. Each device is powered by a single solar array and equipped with a navigation system that will allow SpaceX to accurately track the satellites. Thrusters on each satellite will nudge them to an operational altitude of 550 kilometers (340 miles).

Earth’s low orbit is about to become a very busy place—and not just on account of SpaceX. Similar constellations are being developed by OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat for the U.S. market, which suggests this is about to become a highly competitive space. In space.

Read More

Breathtaking View of SpaceX Starlink Satellite ‘Train’ Triggers Wave of UFO Sightings

The Starlink satellite train as seen shortly before 1:00 am in the Netherlands on May 25, 2019 (video is three-times normal speed).
GIF: Marco Langbroek/Gizmodo

A satellite tracker in the Netherlands has captured stunning video of dozens of SpaceX Starlink satellites passing overhead. Launched together late last week, the chain of satellites looked like a giant, brightly lit train chugging away in the night sky—a rare sight that understandably prompted UFO sightings.

Marco Langbroek, a spy satellite tracker and astronomer, spotted the string of Starlink satellites from a tracking station located in Leiden, the Netherlands. Using data from last week’s launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, he calculated a probable search orbit, got his camera ready, and was duly rewarded.

Just before 1:00 a.m. local time on May 25 (10:55 pm UT on May 24 to be exact), the Starlink train drifted into Langbroek’s view. The satellites had only recently been deployed and were still parked in orderly, soldier-like formation. On his website, SatTrackCam Leiden (b)log, Langbroek wrote:

My search orbit turned out to be not too bad: very close in sky track, and with the objects passing some 3 minutes early on the predictions. And what a SPECTACULAR view it was!

It started with two faint, flashing objects moving into the field of view. Then, a few tens of seconds later, my jaw dropped as the ‘train’ entered the field of view. I could not help shouting “OAAAAAH!!!!” (followed by a few expletives…).

Langbroek uploaded the video to Vimeo, writing on his site, “be prepared to be mind-blown!”

Launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 23, these 60 satellites are the first build-out of Elon Musk’s Starlink internet constellation. Eventually, the plan is for this telecommunications system to provide low-cost broadband internet access to paying customers around the planet, including remote areas where internet service is hard to come by. Starlink won’t reach “significant operational capacity” until at least 800 satellites are placed in orbit, so the private company still has a way to go.

Late last week, the 60 Starlink satellites, each weighing 500 pounds (227 kg), were placed in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at an altitude of 400 kilometers (250 miles). The intended orbit is much higher. Accordingly, each satellite is equipped with a Hall ion thruster, which will enable the units to adjust their positions in orbit, hold an intended altitude, and even deorbit themselves when the time comes. SpaceX doesn’t expect these satellites to last more than five years, after which time they’ll dip back into Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate during reentry; SpaceX intends to replace old satellites with newer models over the course of the project.

Importantly, this Starlink train is a temporary feature. The satellites will drift further and further apart with each successive orbit of Earth. This train, as Langbroek wrote at his website, “will probably quickly dissipate.”

Langbroek wasn’t the only person to see the amazing sight; commenters at his website said they saw the formation in Minnesota, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and elsewhere. Understandably, the strange sight prompted concerns of UFOs, as AFP reported via CTV News:

Shortly afterwards, Dutch website www.ufomeldpunt.nl was inundated with more than 150 sighting reports, with astonished spotters describing a “bizarre train of stars or lights moving across the skies at constant speed.”

“There’s a long line of lights. Faster than a plane. Huh?” one spotter reported, while another called it a “star caravan” and one saying “I have it on film”.

One spotter simply texted: “WTF?”

“I didn’t know what to make of it,” an unnamed witness later told the NOS public broadcaster.

“Is it Russia attacking the US? Are they UFOs? Seriously, I didn’t know,” the witness said.

Thankfully it wasn’t an alien invasion—but this likely won’t be the last Starlink train we’ll get to see, and as a result, not the last time we’ll experience a wave of related UFO sightings. SpaceX needs least 800 Starlink satellites in orbit to gain full functionality of the system, and a total of 1,000 for the project to become economically viable for the company. Incredibly, Elon Musk also envisions as many as 12,000 Starlink satellites as part of the constellation. If that’s true, we can expect many more transient Starlink trains in the coming months and years.

Read More

SpaceX postpones launch of its first Internet network satellites – Gulf Times

AFP/Washington

SpaceX postponed a launch of 60 satellites into low-Earth orbit that was scheduled for Thursday night, possibly until next week, citing a need for software updates.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral was to be the first of potentially thousands in its Starlink project to beam broadband Internet across the planet.

“Standing down to update satellite software and triple-check everything again,” said a tweet from the official SpaceX account. “Always want to do everything we can on the ground to maximise mission success, next launch opportunity in about a week.”

The launch, which was initially envisaged for Wednesday, was first delayed because of high winds.

Billionaire Elon Musk’s firm, which is leading the private space race when it comes to rocket launches, is now looking to seize a chunk of the future space Internet market.

The launch will make it an early forerunner, along with rival OneWeb, a startup, but well ahead of Amazon’s Project Kuiper, the brainchild of Musk’s space rival Jeff Bezos.

Musk is hoping to grab three to 5% of the future global market, a figure he shared Wednesday during a call with reporters.

That could earn SpaceX an eye-watering $30bn a year, more than ten times what rocket launches make, he added.

The goal is to finance the development of future rockets and spacecraft, to realise the boss’s dream of colonising Mars.

Each of the satellites weighs just 227 kilograms (500 pounds) and was built in-house in Redmond, near Seattle.

The second stage of the rocket will begin to release them one hour after launch, at an altitude of 270 miles (440km), and then the satellites will use their thrusters to take up their places in a relatively low orbit of 340 miles (550km). That’s slightly higher than the International Space Station, but well below the majority of terrestrial satellites, the highest of which sit in a geostationary orbit of 22,400 miles (36,000km). The advantage of being so low is reduced lag times, key for broadband connectivity.

The disadvantage though is more satellites are required to cover the globe, and, being closer to the atmosphere, they fall back to earth faster, after a few years.

SpaceX will therefore have to replace them regularly — something that only became realistic from a price perspective recently with the rapid decline in the cost of manufacturing satellites and the development of mini-satellites.

SpaceX has obtained approval from the US government to launch up to 12,000 satellites, at varying levels of orbit, but Musk said Wednesday that a thousand would be enough for it to be “economically viable.”

Starlink will become operational once 800 satellites have been activated, which will require a dozen more launches.

“I think within a year and a half, maybe two years, if things go well, SpaceX will probably have more satellites in orbit than all other satellites combined,” said Musk.

Today there are about 2,100 active satellites orbiting our planet (and thousands of others that aren’t operational any more). In order to receive SpaceX Internet, users will need an antenna which “basically looks like a sort of a small to medium sized pizza,” said Musk, adding it would be a “flat disc.”

The company plans to team up with telecoms operators, but hasn’t yet begun the process of finding clients, he said.

The satellites will be designed such that 95% will burn up as they fall back through the atmosphere, with the rest of the debris falling into the Pacific ocean.

Finally, to reduce the risk of striking other satellites, each piece of the constellation will be equipped with anti-collision technology, according to SpaceX.

Musk added: “We don’t want to trivialise it or not take it seriously because we certainly do take it seriously.

But it’s not crowded up there, it’s extremely sparse.”

Read More

SpaceX kicks off a ‘new era in spaceflight’ with the Crew Dragon launch

SpaceX kicks off a ‘new era in spaceflight’ with the Crew Dragon launch

Image: John Raoux/AP/Shutterstock

2016%252f09%252f16%252f63%252fhttpsd2mhye01h4nj2n.cloudfront.netmediazgkymde1lza2.c97cf.jpg%252f90x90By Adam Rosenberg

It’s been a momentous Saturday for SpaceX, and for the future of crewed voyages into space.

At 2:49 a.m. ET, the American aerospace company founded by Elon Musk staged its first launch of Crew Dragon. It’s big news because this is the first time a commercial interest has launched a spacecraft that was built to carry humans.

SEE ALSO: SpaceX launches moon lander, lands booster despite tough conditions

American spaceflight has traditionally been the domain of NASA, but the past decade has seen a gradual shift toward having commercial interests share the responsibility. SpaceX and Boeing are leading that charge, so the successful Crew Dragon launch represents a major milestone moment.

It’s still just a first step, however. Although the Dragon capsule itself is designed to carry a crew of up to seven astronauts skyward, the one that launched on Saturday — Demo-1 is its designation — is more of a test run: it’s carrying a few hundred pounds of cargo, plus a sensor-filled dummy named “Ripley.”

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine hailed the launch as a “new era in spaceflight.” 

He added: “We are looking forward to being one customer of many customers in a robust commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit, so we can drive down costs and increase access in ways that, historically, have not been possible.” 

The cost savings Bridenstine mentioned are very real. After NASA retired its shuttle fleet in 2011, the U.S. has relied on Russia to bring astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Hitching a ride on a Russian Soyuz rocket costs roughly $80 million per seat, compared to the $51 million cost to fly on a SpaceX or Boeing vehicle.

Bridenstine’s comments don’t make it very clear, but NASA is closely involved with the U.S. development of commercial spaceflight. The agency’s influence shapes various aspects of third-party planning, including design, safety, and funding, under its Commercial Crew Program.

Now that Demo-1 is in space, the next phase of its mission begins. Early on Sunday morning, the capsule will dock with the ISS to drop off its cargo. After that, Demo-1 will detach and begin its return trip to Earth.

Assuming everything goes well for Demo-1, the first Crew Dragon launch to carry actual humans into space could come as soon as summer 2019.

Read More