SpaceX

SpaceX launches seventh Starlink mission

24 April 2020 | Melanie Mingas

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In its quest to deploy the world’s most advanced broadband internet system, SpaceX has launched its seventh Starlink mission from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Launched on 22 April, it was SpaceX’s sixth of 2020 and takes the total number of Starlink satellites in orbit to 422, following earlier launches and two prototype launches in 2018.

The launch is part of SpaceX’s to build an interconnected network of around 12,000 small satellites to “deliver high speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable”. It is estimated the entire constellation will cost around $10 billion “or more” to complete.   

On the technology, SpaceX said: “Each Starlink satellite weights approximately 260 kg and features a compact, flat-panel design that minimizes volume, allowing for a dense launch stack to take full advantage of Falcon 9’s launch capabilities. With four powerful phased array and two parabolic antennas on each satellite, an enormous amount of throughput can be placed and redirected in a short time, for an order of magnitude lower cost than traditional satellite-based internet.”

The launch marked the 84th flight of SpaceX’s own Falcon 9 rocket, which is now the most flown operational rocket in the US.

Falcon 9’s first stage previously supported Crew Dragon’s first flight to the International Space Station, launch of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, and the fourth Starlink mission. Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon 9’s fairing previously supported the AMOS-17 mission.

SpaceX was last year valued at $33.3 billion, but a large share of that is from Starlink’s activities – so much so, Musk is reportedly considering to spin off into its own business and take it public, meaning SpaceX would return to its core focus as a space transportation company.

In a $1 trillion internet connectivity market, the growth prospects for Starlink are strong and it already holds the largest market share in terms of commercial constellations.

Over the last decade there were around 230 satellites launched every, but over the coming 10 years this will increase to a forecasted 990 launches a year, putting the market on course to reach values of $292 billion by 2028, a decade-on-decade increase of 28%, according to figures published in January by Euroconsult.