A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a thrice-flown first stage and a previously used nose cone fairing is poised for blastoff Monday on a Veterans Day flight to boost 60 Starlink internet relay satellites into orbit. It is the second batch in a planned constellation of thousands intended to provide broadband service around the world.
With an 80 percent chance of good weather expected, liftoff from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is targeted for 9:56 a.m. ET Monday.
In keeping with SpaceX’s drive to lower costs by re-flying its rocket hardware, the Falcon 9’s first stage will be making a record fourth flight — following two missions in 2018 and another earlier this year — to launch two large communications satellites and a set of 10 Iridium satellite telephone relay stations.
In another first, the nose cone protecting the Starlink satellites and their deployer will make its second flight after an April launch atop a Falcon Heavy rocket.
For Monday’s mission, the SpaceX droneship “Of Course I Still Love You” will be stationed several hundred miles northeast of Cape Canaveral to serve as a landing pad for the Falcon 9’s first stage. Two other ships, “Ms. Tree” and “Ms. Chief,” will be standing by with large nets to capture the two halves of the payload fairing as they descend under parachutes.
The flight plan calls for the 60 solar-powered Starlink satellites, each weighing 573 pounds, to be released into a 174-mile-high orbit about one hour after launch. After tests and checkout, the satellites will be boosted into their operational positions using on-board ion thrusters.
SpaceX has regulatory approval to launch nearly 12,000 Starlink relay stations in dozens of orbital planes. With multiple satellites within line of sight from any point on Earth’s surface, the relay stations are designed to seamlessly hand off internet traffic, using satellite-to-satellite “cross links,” to provide uninterrupted service.
Monday’s launch, along withand another four batches planned for the next year or so, will put about 360 satellites into orbit, providing coverage over much of the United States and Canada in 2020.
Twenty four launches — more than 1,400 satellites — will be needed to provide global coverage starting in 2021, but SpaceX plans to continue boosting the total to provide additional bandwidth. The total number of satellites that might ultimately end up in orbit is not yet known.
Astronomers raised concerns after the first Starlink launch in May, saying sunlight reflecting off the satellites could interfere with sensitive observations. SpaceX officials say they are taking steps to minimize reflectivity and ensure problem-free observing.
Astronomy aside, the Starlink network is designed to provide “high-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity, ideally throughout the world,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said earlier this year. “This would provide connectivity to people that don’t have any connectivity today or where it’s extremely expensive and unreliable.”
The Starlink system will also serve “people who may have connectivity today in developed areas of the world but it’s very expensive,” he added. “This will provide a competitive option for them.”