With less than a week into the year, cutting-edge space company SpaceX is already readying for its first launch of 2020. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will today blast a batch of 60 Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). The latest addition to the SpaceX mega-constellation is part of Elon Musk’s plans to provide broadband internet around the world.
The Starlink launch has been postponed several times but the Falcon 9 is now expected to launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral at approximately 2.19am GMT on Tuesday (9.19pm EST on Monday).
Starlink will provide fast, reliable internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable
Weather conditions at Cape Canaveral are forecast to be promising, with a less than 10 percent chance of cancellation and a 20 percent chance of further delay.
You can watch the launch and landing webcast here , courtesy of SpaceX.
The action is expected to start at about 2.04am GMT (9.04pm EST).
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SpaceX Starlink: A Falcon 9 rocket will today blast a batch of 60 Starlink satellites into low-Earth
SpaceX Starlink: The live stream is expected to start at about 9.04pm ET EST (2.04am GMT)
What is SpaceX Starlink?
Today marks the third Starlink launch to date, while the mission also marks only the second occasion SpaceX has flown a Falcon 9 first-stage booster for the fourth time.
The goal of SpaceX’s Starlink project is to provide constant high-speed internet access to users worldwide through a massive constellation of broadband internet satellites operating in low-Earth orbit.
Users on the ground would then only require a laptop-sized terminal to access the internet.
SpaceX wrote in a statement: ”Starlink will provide fast, reliable internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.”
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Starlink is a priority for SpaceX this year, making up most of the missions in 2020, with the Elon Musk-owned company aiming to expand its fleet of internet-beaming satellites.
There will likely be at least one more batch of 60 Starlink satellites scheduled to launch before the end of January.
Elon Musk had revealed how SpaceX will need at least 400 Starlink satellites in orbit to offer “minor” broadband coverage, and at least 800 to provide “moderate” coverage.
SpaceX plans to operate its initial batch of 1,584 satellites 341 miles (549km) above the Earth, hovering much lower than traditional communications satellites.
SpaceX’s Starlink satellites could be a pain for astronomers
SpaceX Starlink: Weather conditions at Cape Canaveral are forecast to be promising
Such traditional geostationary satellites are too distant to provide the kind of affordable internet access SpaceX aims to establish.
SpaceX faces competition from many other companies, including Airbus’ OneWeb, TeleSat and even Amazon.
Today’s launch will see the number of Starlink satellites in orbit increase to 180, putting SpaceX on a path to be the first company to provide tangible internet coverage.
Starlink commercial internet services could debut in parts of the US and Canada after approximately six more launches and global coverage beginning after 24 launches.
SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell has forecast coverage could begin as soon as this year but the company has not yet announced pricing for its new service.
Why is SpaceX Starlink so controversial?
The size of the SpaceX Starlink mega-constellation has concerned some astronomers as the satellites’ reflective surfaces interfere with the ability to observe space with telescopes.
Those issues have been raised with SpaceX, and the company plans to include a single satellite with a less-reflective surface in Monday’s launch batch, according to Space.com.
A special coating on the bottom of Starlink satellites could reduce the glare but how it will affect performance is unknown.
Ms Shotwell, SpaceX COO, told SpaceNews in December: “It definitely changes the performance of the satellite, thermally.
“It’ll be some trial and error but we’ll fix it.”