December 23, 2019
SpaceX is in the process of deploying Starlink satellites which will offer low latency, broadband internet services. It is all part of the company's plan to fund future missions to Moon and Mars, by offering internet services they can use the revenue to further fund their space program. Starlink consists of surrounding Earth with a mega-constellation consisting of 12,000 satellites, these will beam high-speed internet all over the planet.
A total of 60 satellites can fit inside their Falcon 9 rocket's fairing. Each satellite is a flat panel with a single solar array that unfolds upwards, its size is relatively small compared to other satellites, about the size of an office desk but weighing about 500.5 pounds. So far, SpaceX has successfully deployed 120 satellites into low Earth orbit. The first batch of 60 Starlink satellites was launched in May this year, and the second batch of 60 in November. They are scheduled to launch a third batch of 60 satellites soon, by December 30 (date is subject to change). And announced that this late December mission will be followed by another Starlink launch in early January 2020, which would mark the fourth batch of 60 satellites deployed into orbit.
SpaceX previously reported that they aim to conduct as many as 24 missions dedicated to Starlink launches in 2020. After 24 rocket launches, they expect to achieve global coverage. President of SpaceX, Shotwell, said as many as 24 Starlink launches are planned for next year, "We need 360 to 400 to have a constant connectivity where the satellites can end up through the ground talking to each other. Once we get to 1,200 satellites, we will have coverage of the whole globe." So there could be an average of two Starlink launches per month next year. Once they have 300 satellites in orbit they would be able to provide internet services for customers in the northern United States and southern Canada.
Since the first two batches of 60 satellites were launched, the company has received complaints from astronomers about Starlink satellites being too reflective in the night sky, interfering with their scientific observations. In response, SpaceX will now test an experimental coating that is meant to make Starlink satellites less reflective. The coating will go on the bottom of one of the 60 new satellites that will be deployed into orbit on during the upcoming mission. SpaceX President said, “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.” The coating will be tested first, before applying it to more satellites to see if the satellite coating's anti-reflective properties could affect the satellite's performance due to thermal changes.
According to a recent approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), SpaceX was recently granted permission to place Starlink satellites into more orbital rings surrounding Earth, which enables the company to deploy less satellites per orbital ring and reach global coverage sooner because they could be covering more area above Earth. SpaceX stated, "The proposed re-spacing would require fewer launches of satellites — perhaps as few as half — to initiate service to the entire contiguous United States; Globally, the modification would enable more rapid coverage of all longitudes to grow toward the Equator, as well as bolstering capacity over in areas of greater population density." The company was granted this permission so they could speed up the time it will take to offer services so they could easily beam internet towards southern United States to emergency responders during hurricane season next year. Read more: SpaceX plans to deploy Starlink into more orbital rings to begin service by hurricane season.