Update: SpaceX says it is standing down to update satellite software and triple-check everything again. “Always want to do everything we can on the ground to maximize mission success, next launch opportunity in about a week,” the company said on Twitter.
SpaceX’s plan to beam global internet coverage from space is poised for an important launch Thursday night.
The Starlink mission, scheduled to launch at 10:30 p.m. ET from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, aims to deploy the first 60 production satellites of nearly 12,000 planned spacecraft. The satellites are loaded on a Falcon 9 first stage that previously supported the Telstar 18 VANTAGE mission in September 2018 and the Iridium-8 mission in January 2019.
SpaceX will attempt to land Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.
Approximately one hour and two minutes after liftoff, the Starlink satellites will begin deployment at an altitude of 440km. They will then use onboard propulsion to reach an operational altitude of 550km.
SpaceX designed Starlink to connect end users with low latency, high bandwidth broadband services by providing continual coverage around the world using a network of thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit.
SpaceX said that to manufacture and launch a constellation of such scale it has used the same design approach that led to the successes of Falcon 1, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon.
With a flat-panel design featuring multiple high-throughput antennas and a single solar array, each Starlink satellite weighs approximately 227kg, enabling SpaceX to maximize mass production and take full advantage of Falcon 9’s launch capabilities.
To adjust position on orbit, maintain intended altitude, and deorbit, Starlink satellites feature Hall thrusters powered by krypton. Designed and built upon the heritage of Dragon, each spacecraft is equipped with a Startracker navigation system that SpaceX said allows the company to point the satellites with precision.
The Starlink network is designed to operate in a lower orbit than previous internet satellites, which helps speed the transmit of data. However, there’s concern that a clutter of “space junk” could result in collisions.
To solve for this, Starlink satellites are capable of tracking on-orbit debris and autonomously avoiding collision. SpaceX said that 95 percent of all components of the design will quickly burn in Earth’s atmosphere at the end of each satellite’s lifecycle “exceeding all current safety standards—with future iterative designs moving to complete disintegration.”
Elon Musk tweeted a picture last week of the satellites loaded into the rocket’s fairing, with another photo of his Roadster in the fairing for scale.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 12, 2019
“This mission will push the operational capabilities of the satellites to the limit,” SpaceX said in a release. “SpaceX expects to encounter issues along the way, but our learnings here are key to developing an affordable and reliable broadband service in the future.”
SpaceX won in November permission from U.S. regulators to launch the spacecraft. The decision included a plan for more than 7,000 satellites, which is in addition to 4,425 satellites that were previously approved. SpaceX said the system will be operational once it hits 800 satellites.
Other companies have similar plans to beam reliable internet service from space. The Federal Communications Commission has approved requests by OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat to access the U.S. market to provide broadband services using satellite technology.
Thursday’s launch livestream is below.