SpaceX's Starlink global satellite network blasts off

24 May 2019 | Laurence Doe

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SpaceX has successfully launched 60 Starlink satellites from a Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

On May 23 at 10:30 pm EDT, SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network began its mission (see video below) to provide connectivity to the globe by reaching populations that are not yet connected with reliable and affordable broadband internet services.

Despite an eight-day delay and Elon Musk’s warning that “much will likely go wrong", SpaceX achieved a stage separation and landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Approximately one hour and two minutes after liftoff, the Starlink satellites were deployed at an altitude of 440 kilometres. They then used onboard propulsion to reach an operational altitude of 550 kilometres.

This first mission is the first of six that are needed in order to achieve minor coverage and 12 for moderate.

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.

With a flat-panel design featuring multiple high-throughput antennas and a single solar array, each Starlink satellite weighs approximately 227 kilograms, allowing 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 — a colourless, odourless, tasteless noble gas.

Each spacecraft is equipped with a star tracker navigation system that allows SpaceX to point the satellites with precision.

According to SpaceX, its Starlink satellites are also capable of tracking on-orbit debris and autonomously avoiding collision.

Commenting on the satellites in its mission brief, SpaceX stated: “Additionally, 95% of all components of this 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.”

Musk’s vision of providing space cancellation was recently mirrored by another technology entrepreneur and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos, who is planning to launch over 3,000 satellites under Project Kuiper to offer high-speed broadband services.