Elon Musk Teases Launch of 60 SpaceX Starlink Micro Satellites

Elon Musk loves a good Twitter tease. The CEO of SpaceX recently posted a few photos of their Starlink satellites that have been loaded into a Falcon fairing. Musk remarked that the first 60 satellites are expected to launch on Wednesday. 

Starlink is a satellite constellation project that is intended to bring 1 Gbps speeds to users. Musk hopes to launch a total of 12,000 satellites. The satellites will be launched into three different orbital shells. Some of the satellites will form network that will use the V band or a band of frequencies ranging between 40 to 75 GHz. Other satellites will access the Ka band (26.5- 40 GHz) and Ku band (12-18 GHz). Musk noted on Twitter that SpaceX will need to successfully complete at least twelve missions with 60 satellites in each mission (total of 720 satellites) to provide “moderate” coverage. He estimates that the network will be able to go live some time in 2020 after at least 800 satellites have been launched.

spacex starlink satellites falcon fairing
Satellites loaded into a Falcon fairing. Image via Twitter. 

Musk anticipates that “much will likely go wrong" during the first few missions. The satellites that will reportedly be launched on Wednesday will not be part of the final Starlink constellation. Musk confirmed that the satellites are “production design”, but they lack certain network components. This launch is very much a test.

The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the overall Starlink plan in February 2018. They approved the creation and launch of over 7,000 satellites in November and another 4,500 satellites this past April. The FCC believes that “to bridge America’s digital divide, we’ll have to use innovative technologies. SpaceX’s application… involves one such innovation.”

Unfortunately, the Starlink project has experienced a few rough patches. Musk fired at least seven people in senior management over disagreements about the project timeline. SpaceX also let go of nearly 10% of their workforce, or over 6,000 employees, this past winter. A SpaceX spokesperson remarked, “To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company.”

SpaceX is not the only private company working on satellites. Amazon supposedly plans to launch over 3,000 of their own low orbit satellites. SpaceX will need to work quickly and efficiently if they plan on competing with other aerospace giants.
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