Update 10:10 AM ET: The launch went smoothly, and the 60 satellites are expected to be deployed in orbit about an hour after launch, around 10:56AM ET. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket landed successfully on the droneship for a record-setting fourth time. Original post continues below.
SpaceX is about to launch 60 satellites at once, sending them into orbit on a veteran rocket that’s already seen space four times. If successful, the launch will be a big step forward for the company’s space internet ambitions.
The satellites are part of SpaceX’s Starlink project — a group of satellites that the company hopes will eventually provide stunningly fast internet nearly anywhere in the world. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has said they hope to begin offering services to customers as early as mid-2020.
There’s still a ways to go before SpaceX can start connecting customers. The company has gotten approval from the Federal Communications Commission to launch 12,000 satellites as part of Starlink. And it’s asked an international regulator for the ability to communicate with an additional 30,000 satellites, bringing its ambitions for the project to 42,000 satellites total.
So far, the company has only launched 60, a feat that was accomplished in May. That launch was broadly successful, but soon after, the company lost contact with three of the satellites, and some astronomers raised concerns that the brightness of the satellites might interfere with scientific observations. After the backlash, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that it would be possible to “tweak sat orientation to minimize solar reflection during critical astronomical experiments”.
Team is go for launch of 60 Starlink sats tomorrow—heaviest payload to date, first re-flight of a fairing, and first Falcon 9 to fly a fourth mission. Watching 1 sat that may not orbit raise; if not, 100% of its components will quickly burn up in Earth’s atmosphere pic.twitter.com/OrI8L0ntFK— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 11, 2019
With today’s launch, SpaceX hopes to nearly double the number of Starlink satellites in orbit. And their ride to space is notable too. The Falcon 9 rocket being used to launch the satellites has already seen space three other times — and this will mark the first time a SpaceX rocket has been used for a fourth launch.
It will also be the first time that SpaceX will attempt to reuse a fairing, or half of the nosecone of the spacecraft. SpaceX first caught a fairing in a net-equipped boat back in June.
Today, SpaceX had planned to catch both fairings using the ships Mr. Tree and Ms. Chief, which would have attempted to snag the fairings in giant nets about 45 minutes after launch. Thanks to rough seas, they’ve abandoned that plan, but they still intend to retrieve the fairing halves from the ocean after they splash down. SpaceX will also attempt to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.
In addition to being a pretty amazing sight to see, the ocean acrobatics are also a cost-saving measure. The more parts of a rocket SpaceX can recover and re-use, the less future satellite launches will cost.
The launch is scheduled for 9:56AM ET from Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX’s live stream will start around 9:41 AM ET, about 15 minutes before the scheduled launch. Tune in then to see the action!
Update 9:48AM ET: Updated to include new plans for fairing recovery.