SpaceX successfully launched the fourth batch of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. The company aims to fund their space program by offering internet services. Starlink will be a constellation of 12,000 satellites that will beam high-speed internet across the globe. SpaceX officials previously stated that Starlink will be affordable enough that areas where internet is non-existent, unreliable, or too expensive will benefit from their service. During today's live launch broadcast SpaceX Engineer Lauren Lyons said:
"Because Starlink satellites fly in a global constellation, we can bring high-speed Internet to places that previously had terrible service or no service at all. Some of the most exciting opportunities for Starlink are rural or remote locations where traditional fiber or cable just isn't practical."
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/rFRtJuTXFL— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 29, 2020
Today (January 29), a previously flown, 229-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket fired up at 9:06 a.m. EST. lifting off from Launch Complex Pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rocket’s nine Merlin 1D engines, collectively generating about 1.7 million pounds of thrust upon lift-off. Successfully deploying 60 Starlink satellite's into orbit.
Successful deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed! pic.twitter.com/AHkQYB3uNV— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 29, 2020
SpaceX explained they will test the satellites at a low altitude first, to ensure the satellites are working at optimal levels. If a satellite does not work properly they expect to leave those satellites behind to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere over the course of a few months. In the coming weeks the working satellites will be raised into a 550-kilometer operational orbit. SpaceX has the world's largest satellite constellation, with a total of 230 satellites in low Earth orbit, out of the 12,000 they aim to deploy. "Building a constellation that can provide this level of service is incredibly challenging, but we are making steady progress toward that goal with every Starlink launch," Lyons said.
SpaceX achieved several reusability milestones during today's launch. They reused a Falcon 9 rocket booster B1051.3 for the third time! This is a great accomplishment in the aerospace industry, SpaceX has been the only company trying to recover and reuse rockets. Rocket reusability, significantly reduces manufacturing and operation costs. They aim to develop a rocket that can be as reusable as an airplane. The B1051.3 first-stage rocket booster's previous missions include: Performing the first demonstration, Demo-1, launch of Crew Dragon to the International space station in March 2019. Also, launched three Earth-observing satellites for Canada in June 2019.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship – our 49th successful landing of an orbital class booster pic.twitter.com/QyR3zyPcIp— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 29, 2020
Today, they recovered the rocket booster for the third time! Approximately 9 minutes after lift-off, the rocket returned from space to touch-down vertically on a landing platform droneship situated in the Atlantic Ocean called Of Course I Still Love You -marking SpaceX's 49th rocket booster recovery! Engineers can now reuse this same booster with little refurbishment. They designed the Falcon 9 (Block 5) boosters with the capability of conducting 10 flights. So far, they have only reused a particular rocket 4 times.
Another reusability milestone during today's Starlink-3 mission was, they caught a payload fairing half, which is the top nose cone section of the rocket that holds the satellite, with a boat called "Ms. Tree" (photo below).
Ms. Tree caught a fairing half – our third successful catch! pic.twitter.com/VJU8asg4gS— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 29, 2020
Ms. Tree is equipped with a large net that is used to catch fairing halves as they fall from space. Each fairing half is equipped with small thrusters to orient themselves as they fall through Earth's atmosphere and they use parachutes to soft land into the ocean. Ocean water is corrosive due to salt, so the company wants to start catching fairings with boats to be able to reutilize them. They only caught one fairing half, the other one failed to land on another recovery ship named "Ms. Chief." SpaceX engineer said: "We will be pulling that fairing half out of the water and hopefully reusing it again in the future."
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About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.