On Wednesday afternoon, SpaceX continues with its internet-from-space initiative, relaunching another batch of 60 broadband radiating satellites in orbit from Florida. This is the company’s seventh launch for its ambitious internet project, known as Starlink, and if successful, SpaceX will have orbited more than 420 of its nearly 12,000 planned satellites.
With such a massive constellation in Earth orbit, SpaceX hopes to ultimately provide global internet coverage from space. As soon as enough satellites are launched, the company plans to sell user terminals to customers so that they can connect to the satellite network. As of now, plans are to roll out partial coverage to Canada and the northern United States sometime this year, with possible global coverage in 2021.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, said the company only needs about 400 satellites to provide “initial operational capability” and then 800 satellites to ramp it up to “significant operational capability.” That means that after this launch, SpaceX will have the minimum number of spacecraft needed to launch Starlink, according to Musk.
But SpaceX has yet to launch many satellites before things get ‘important’, and the company’s latest Starlink launch didn’t go as smoothly as the others. During that launch in March, one of the main engines of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket shut down early when the vehicle reached space, with its 60 satellites in tow. (The missile still successfully orbited the satellites, despite the bad engine.) In addition, the Falcon 9 did not land and missed the drone ship it attacked in the Atlantic. SpaceX’s landings are not part of its primary mission, which is to orbit the satellites, but a failed landing is rare for the company today. And this was the second failed landing for SpaceX this year.
That means that there will be a lot of focus on this mission to make sure things are going well – and it won’t be just SpaceX paying attention. The company is just over a month from launching its first astronauts into space on the Falcon 9 rocket for NASA. The space agency has partnered with SpaceX to investigate the engine failure in March to make sure it’s not a big deal before people ride the rocket. A smooth launch today will be required for SpaceX to maintain the intended launch date for its NASA flight on May 27.
For today’s flight, SpaceX uses widely used hardware. The company flies one of its Falcon 9 rockets that have been in space and back three times, and the nose cone – which surrounds the satellites on top of the rocket – also flew into space on a previous mission. After takeoff, Falcon 9 will attempt to land on one of SpaceX’s autonomous drone ships in the Atlantic for the third time. SpaceX will also attempt to capture the two halves of its nose cone or fairing using two of the company’s boats equipped with giant nets. So far, SpaceX has not yet caught these fairing halves and landed a rocket all on the same flight.
The launch is scheduled to begin at 3:30 PM ET from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Today’s launch time has even been pushed up by seven minutes – a rarity for the space industry. In fact, the launch of SpaceX was originally scheduled for tomorrow, but it was moved to today because there were better chances for good weather. If for some reason the Falcon 9 can’t launch today, SpaceX will try again tomorrow at 3:15 p.m. ET.
Live coverage of today’s launch begins approximately 10 minutes before departure. Come back this afternoon to watch the mission live.