SpaceX Set To Launch First ‘Production’ Broadband Satellites

SpaceX is planning to launch some 60 “Starlink” satellites into orbit this week for the company’s internet-based broadband project.

The satellites are production designs, unlike two pathfinder models launched early last year, SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk said on Twitter.

But they lack equipment that would link them into a mesh network, and are not intended to become part of SpaceX’s planned network of around 12,000 broadband satellites, SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said last week.

Musk said late on Monday that a static-fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket had completed successfully, paving the way for a possible launch on Wednesday.

Elon Musk/Twitter

Launch plan

The launch is planned to proceed at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, with a window extending from 10:30 EDT to midnight EDT on Wednesday, 15 May, or 2:30 GMT to 4:00 GMT on 16 May, according to Spaceflight Now.

Musk posted an image of all 60 satellites “flat-packed” into a single Falcon 9 fairing, side-by-side with one showing his Tesla Roadster in its fairing ahead of its February 2018 launch into space.

The roadster launch, the first test mission of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, used a fairing of the same size as the Falcon 9.

SpaceX’s network is planned to go live in the mid-2020s after the launch of about 800 satellites.

Competition

Over the weekend Musk said on Twitter that six more launches of 60 satellites would be needed for “minor” broadband coverage, and 12 launches for “moderate” service.

US regulators in April approved a plan for SpaceX to launch 4,409 Starlink satellites with 1,584 of those positioned at a low altitude of 550km.  In November plans were approved for a further 7,000 Starlink units.

Other companies racing to construct satellite-based broadband networks include Jeffrey Bezos’ Blue Origin, Kepler, LeoSat and Telesat Canada.

Start-up OneWeb launched its first satellites in February, and in March said it had raised a total of some $3.4 billion (£2.63bn) in private funding, paving the way for a series of monthly launches this autumn to build an initial network of 650 satellites operating at 1,200km.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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