SpaceX has readied a Falcon 9 rocket and a second set of 60 Starlink satellites for a launch on Monday morning. The company is targeting 9:56am ET (14:56 UTC Monday) for liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Weather conditions appear to be favorable for the launch attempt.
After an “experimental” launch in May of 60 satellites, about 50 of which remain in orbit half a year later, SpaceX has made several modifications to this second batch of Starlink satellites.
“SpaceX has increased spectrum capacity for the end-user through upgrades in design that maximize the use of both Ka and Ku bands,” the company stated in a news release. “Additionally, components of each satellite are 100% demisable and will quickly burn up in Earth’s atmosphere at the end of their life cycle—a measure that exceeds all current safety standards.”
Starlink is intended to provide low-latency broadband Internet access around the world. By the middle of 2020, after six launches of satellites, the company plans to begin offering service to parts of North America through ground-based user terminals. Global coverage of the “populated world” will follow after the company completes 24 launches. The news release made no comment about efforts to minimize disruption to the night sky—about which astronomers have raised concerns—from a constellation that may one day include more than 10,000 satellites.
SpaceX is just one of several companies, including Amazon and OneWeb, racing to establish space-based Internet services from low-Earth orbit. With a second launch of maturing satellites, SpaceX appears to be leading the field. Although it represents an ambitious financial gamble for the company, the ability to fly 60 satellites at a time on reusable rockets would seem to give it an advantage over other competitors, which do not have such ready access to low-cost, rapid launch capabilities.
To that end, SpaceX will launch Monday’s mission on a Falcon 9 rocket first stage that has already flown three times. Moreover, the company will attempt to re-use a payload fairing for the first time. This means that about 80% of the rocket will consist of previously flown materials.
About 8 minutes after the launch, SpaceX will land the Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, in the Atlantic Ocean. Then, about 45 minutes after liftoff, SpaceX’s two fairing recovery vessels, “Ms. Tree” and “Ms. Chief,” will attempt to recover the two fairing halves. One hour into the mission, the Starlink satellites are scheduled to be deployed at an initial altitude of 280km.