SpaceX chief Elon Musk has unveiled the first batch of internet satellites that the company plans to fire into space from Cape Canaveral in the coming days.
The 60 satellites, packed on a Falcon 9 rocket and ready to go, will mark the initial deployment for Musk’s attention-grabbing Starlink project that over time will send around 12,000 satellites into low-Earth orbit to create a broadband network capable of providing low-cost, high-speed global internet coverage.
In a series of tweets posted over the weekend, Musk included a photo (below) of the 60 satellites placed inside the nose cone of the rocket that will carry them into orbit. Musk described it as a “tight fit.”
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 12, 2019
In a bid to manage expectations, the SpaceX boss commented that “much will likely go wrong on 1st mission.”
He added that six further launches, each with 60 satellites, would be needed for “minor” internet coverage, and a further 12 launches for “moderate” coverage.
Specifically, SpaceX plans to start off with the deployment of 4,425 Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit followed by an additional 7,518 satellites at a lower orbit. The higher satellites will operate at an altitude of between 690 miles (1,110 km) and 823 miles (1,325 km) and act as the backbone of the Starlink broadband service, while the other satellites will be deployed at altitudes of between 208 miles (335 km) and 215 miles (346 km) and be used to boost capacity and lower latency, particularly in locations that are heavily populated.
In November 2018, the Federal Communications Commission greenlit the Starlink plan, though it stipulated that SpaceX must launch 50 percent of its proposed satellites within six years and all of them within nine years, unless a waiver is granted.
To date, SpaceX has deployed only two test satellites for Starlink, called Tintin A and Tintin B. The deployment, which took place in February 2018, was deemed a success, and allowed Musk’s space company to continue with preparations for this week’s far bigger deployment that in many ways marks the true beginning of the ambitious project.
SpaceX estimates the entire Starlink project will cost around $ 10 billion, which covers launch costs, as well as the design and setup of the necessary infrastructure to create its global broadband network. And it isn’t the only company with its eye on connecting the world using satellites, with Facebook and SoftBank-backed OneWeb, for example, embarking on their own separate projects.