On Saturday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveilled 60 satellites that will form part of a planned mega-constellation of nearly 12 000 satellites.
The purpose of the constellation of spacecraft is to create a network capable of providing Internet access to every corner of the world.
Musk tweeted a photo of the 60 satellites which are the first functioning units that make up the larger Starlink initiative.
The initiative will eventually see 4 409 satellites launched into orbit followed by a further 7 518 that will do their work at a slightly lower altitude to the rest of the satellites.
An interesting payload
SpaceX has permission from the FCC to launch its satellites, but that is contingent on them managing to launch half of the total satellites in the next six years.
To date, the project has launched two test satellites TinTin A and TinTin B. These were flown into space back in February 2018, and initial tests showed that they fared quite well.
This next launch will see the Starlink initiative take it’s first big leap. Musk has acknowledged that these satellites differ a great deal from the TinTin satellites, but still lack all of the capabilities required for the final constellation.
SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell referred to the batch of spacecraft as “demonstration” satellites designed to test how they will manage the deployment of these craft into orbit.
Musk sees this initial launch as an opportunity to iron out problems stating that “much will likely go wrong”.
Global Internet coverage
It’s expected that SpaceX will provide “minor” Internet coverage once they have 420 satellites in orbit, or after their 7th batch of satellites are put into orbit.
Shotwell believes that two to six more Starlink missions are likely this year, depending on the success of this mission.
A number of companies have set their sites on providing Internet to the world from space, but at the moment it seems as though SpaceX has a considerable lead over the competition.
Falcon 9 rocket: Stats for nerds
The Falcon 9 rocket has in been commission since 2012, and is the Falcon Heavy’s predecessor. The Falcon 9 will carry approximately 53 000 kilograms of cargo into space throughout its lifetime.
The two-stage-to-orbit rocket has a mass of 541 300 kilograms. It can carry up to 22 800 kilograms of cargo in low Earth orbit, or up to 8 300 kilograms in geostationary transfer orbit.
Furthermore, the Falcon 9’s first stage has nine Merlin engines with a burn time of 162 seconds. In addition, the second stage has only one engine which ignites after stage separation. It has a burn time of 397 seconds.
Watch: SpaceX Falcon 9 Starlink Mission
Take note, liftoff scheduled for 08:48 South African Standard Time (SAST) on Saturday 4 May.