Elon Musk’s SpaceX is a private American-based aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company. They have constructed Starlink, a satellite constellation to provide satellite low-cost internet access to remote locations. They have successfully launched several satellites and spacecraft, including falcons.
After waiting for good weather from more than a week, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday from Cape Canaveral, Florida with another batch of 60 Starlink satellites into low earth orbit for the company’s Starlink Internet network. It was a foggy morning on the space coast, but the fog cleared just before liftoff and the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin 1D engines lit up the morning sky as the rocket climbed towards orbit. The rocket generated 1.7 million pounds of thrust.
They performed a standard pre-launch test-firing off the rocket. SpaceX stationed ships in the Atlantic Ocean, to recover the first stage and payload fairing from the Falcon 9 rocket. With each piece fetching roughly $3 million, SpaceX hopes to save some money by reusing them on future flights. So they pushed back the launch from Jan. 21 to Jan. 24, then to Monday, Jan. 27.
Due to strong upper-level winds, SpaceX decided to make a launch attempt on Monday. But the idea was dropped due to bad weather conditions in the downrange recovery area. The weather conditions appeared ideal for a launch on Wednesday at Cape Canaveral, and SpaceX’s 80th Falcon 9 flight put on a spectacular show. nano-satellites are delivered to the orbit by a partly reused Falcon 9 rocket and gently ejected one at a time from a rack.
SpaceX has 242 broadband deployed satellites. That’s almost 1/3rd of the 720 the company will need for “steady protection of maximum populated spaces,” as the corporate tweeted last May. The Starlink’s designs have the most distinguishing features of alternative next-generation satellite-broadband products and services in a way that it doesn’t send data on a roughly 44,000-mile round trip that traditional satellite internet providers do. Their satellites are positioned 22,236 miles up in geosynchronous orbits that keep them over one spot on Earth. This particular placement of satellites provides high-speed connections, as the signal has to travel a relatively shorter distance.
According to Musk, the Starlink satellites can reduce lag time by operating at a lower altitude. The results will be more coverage at a lower cost. CEO said that the company will need at least 400 satellites in orbit to provide minimal coverage. For moderate coverage, there will be a need of at least 800 satellites. The company is now flying 300 Starlink satellites.
Not only working on satellites development, but SpaceX is also considering user terminals that will eventually link Starlink satellites with users network.
With the initial launch of 60 Starlink nano-satellites, the astronomers have raised concerns that thousands of Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit could interfere with astronomical observations. The satellites are especially bright and more visible soon after launch when they are flying at lower altitudes.
On January 6, they deployed one satellite called DarkSat with an experimental anti-reflectivity coating on the bottom. SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell assured, “This next batch has one satellite that we’ve put a coating on the bottom. This is going to be an experiment. We’re going to do trial and error to figure out what’s the best way to get this done. But we are going to get it done,”. Lauren Lyons SpaceX Engineer, said, “It takes a few weeks for those satellites to reach their final orbit destination, so we don’t have the results of that DarkSat experiment just yet, but we’ll be sure to share what we’ve learned as the data becomes available,”.
The constellation will be deployed into three orbital shells with operational altitudes of 340 kilometres (210 miles), 550 kilometres (340 miles) and 1,150 kilometres (710 miles). DarkSat’s orbit is still low, at about 366 – 368 kilometres. DarkSat is expected to reach operational altitude by the end of February 2020. Once reaching the final orbit, engineers will test the satellite’s performance, then determine if they will use the anti-reflective coating on all their satellites or test another method to reduce brightness.
The International Astronomical Union released a new warning about the potential impact satellite mega constellations in astronomy. SpaceX has been considering the complaints and putting efforts in reducing the brightness of the satellites. According to SpaceX, if the DarkSat experiment goes well, future versions of the satellites could be coated in the same material.
- Thompson, Amy. “SpaceX Launches 60 Starlink Satellites for New Megaconstellation, Misses Rocket Landing.” Space.com. February 17, 2020. https://www.space.com/spacex-starlink-4-launch-success-misses-rocket-landing.html.
- Theusbreakingnews. “SpaceX’s Fast Broadband Satellite Just Got a Little Closer to Reality.” The US Breaking News. January 31, 2020. https://theusbreakingnews.com/spacexs-fast-broadband-satellite-just-got-a-little-closer-to-reality/.
- Clark, Stephen. “SpaceX Boosts 60 More Starlink Satellites into Orbit after Weather Delays.” Spaceflight Now. January 29, 2020. https://spaceflightnow.com/2020/01/29/spacex-boosts-60-more-starlink-satellites-into-orbit-after-weather-delays/.
- Arevalo, Evelyn. “SpaceX Deployed Experimental Starlink ‘DarkSat’ to Test an Anti-reflective Coating That Aims to Make the Satellite Less Bright.” TESMANIAN. February 01, 2020. https://www.tesmanian.com/blogs/tesmanian-blog/starlink-darksat.