30 May, 2019
SpaceX has launched its first batch of 60 small satellites for the upcoming Starlink service, which will be able to provide internet connections to remote locations around the globe.
The multibillion-dollar project has been approved by the US communications agency to send almost 12,000 satellites into space, an endeavour that will take multiple launches over the course of several years. The plan is to launch up to 2,000 annually.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk has previously claimed that once active, the network will deliver “one terabit of bandwidth” to Earth, with the aim of using the new network to provide better internet access to under-served parts of the world.
The company said it would probably take another day to learn whether all the satellites deployed were functioning properly. Each weighs about 227kg, making them the heaviest payload carried aloft by SpaceX to date.
Musk believes Starlink could be an important new revenue stream for his company whose launch service income he expects to top out at around $3bn a year.
He told reporters last week that the service is pivotal in helping pay for his larger goals of developing a new spacecraft to fly paying customers to the moon and for eventually trying to colonise Mars.
“We think this is a key stepping stone on the way towards establishing a self-sustaining city on Mars and a base on the moon,” he said.
A previous demonstration of prototypes called Tintin A and B was carried out in February 2018 with coverage good enough to play fast-response video games, Musk claimed.
The launch came after two previous planned launches were cancelled due to heavy winds and additional safety checks.
The first Starlink payload consisted of 60 “flat-pack” satellites, the heaviest in SpaceX’s history.
Musk has previously said it will take “six more launches” of 60 satellites to initially activate Starlink, and 12 more for significant coverage.
Once completed, Starlink will significantly increase the number of satellites in space, with only around 2,000 currently orbiting the Earth.
Other companies including Amazon and OneWeb are also planning multi-satellite launches designed to boost internet connectivity to areas stuck with slow, or non-existent connections. E&T has looked at how these services may operate in the future and the added cost they could pose to users versus land-based connections.
Concerns have also been raised that increasing the number of orbiting bodies in space by such a large degree could dramatically worsen the problem of space junk.