SpaceX launched its fourth batch of 60 Starlink satellites today, boosting its constellation to a world-record 240 satellites and bringing the company closer to starting up its global broadband internet service.
- After delaying liftoff for several days due to weather concerns, SpaceX went ahead with the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida at 9:06 a.m. ET (6:06 a.m. PT). Minutes later, the first-stage booster flew itself back to a landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic, while the second stage and its payload continued the push to orbit. This was the third launch and recovery for the booster used today. SpaceX also caught half of the rocket’s nose cone as it fell, and worked to pull the other half out of the ocean.
- The flat-packed satellites — which are designed and built at SpaceX’s Starlink facility in Redmond, Wash. — were deployed a little more than an hour after launch. They’ll spread out like a deck of cards, and should settle into their proper orbits over the course of the next few weeks. SpaceX says the satellite-based network is currently undergoing testing and could begin offering limited service on a commercial basis later this year,
- Starlink is designed to provide broadband internet access to billions of people around the world who are currently underserved, with military communications among the potential applications. There’s a downside, however: Astronomers say the proliferation of Starllink satellites in low Earth orbit are already ruining fine-scale observations of the night sky. SpaceX is testing measures to reduce the satellites’ reflectivity, but the results of an initial in-orbit test aren’t yet available. (For information about sighting opportunities for Starlink satellites, check Heavens-Above.com.)