SpaceX Sends 60 Starlink Satellites into Orbit
SpaceX Satellites Support Broadband Constellation
SpaceX has launched another 60 satellites in its Starlink network. It brings to 182 the number of spacecraft the firm has now put in the sky as part of its plan to provide a global broadband internet service.
The latest platforms went up on a Falcon-9 rocket, which left from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The new additions mean SpaceX now operates more commercial satellites in orbit than any other company.
Planet Labs has the next biggest working constellation at just under 150 satellites. Its spacecraft are used to image the Earth's surface.
SpaceX has permission from regulators to launch up to 12,000 platforms but has talked of an eventual 40,000, depending on how the project develops. Two more batches of 60 spacecraft could go up before the month is out, as the firm endeavors to start offering some regional broadband links later in 2020.
BBC News reports the roll-out has brought a wave of criticism from astronomers who complain that large numbers of artificial objects in the night sky will ruin their view of the cosmos. To reinforce these complaints, scientists have been releasing pictures of trains of bright dots passing overhead - reflections from the satellites as they move around the globe. SpaceX believes the concerns are overstated, however.
The company concedes the Starlinks are bright shortly after launch but says this is the result of the configuration the satellites adopt as they raise themselves up from an altitude of 290 km to 550 km. Once in their final orbit, the spacecraft should be barely visible, the company says; and it is providing detailed Starlink coordinates to astronomy groups so that they can better plan their observations to avoid interference. One the 60 satellites on the latest mission also had an experimental coating to see if that could further reduce its reflectivity.
What alarms many skywatchers, BBC reported, is that the company is not the only one with a design for a so-called "mega-constellation." UK-based OneWeb wants to put up an initial 650 broadband satellites. Six demonstrators were launched last year but from next month, the London firm hopes to put up about 30 a month. Amazon wants to get into this business, too. Its proposed Kuiper project is at a less advanced stage but the numbers of satellites being considered for the operational network are in excess of 3,000.