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Space Coast’s launch dry spell is ending: SpaceX sending its Starlink satellites to orbit

In May, SpaceX sent 60 Starlink Internet satellites into orbit from the Space Coast, November 2019. (SpaceX/TNS)

SpaceX is set to end a three-month dry spell of ground-based launches from the Space Coast on Monday with a planned launch of its Internet satellite constellation.

Scheduled to launch at about 9:55 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 40, a Falcon 9 rocket will carry about 60 satellites into orbit. Called Starlink, the satellites are part of what could one day be a constellation numbering thousands of spacecraft in low-Earth orbit providing lower-cost Internet connectivity, even in remote areas of the globe.

Monday’s launch will be SpaceX’s second for Starlink. The company sent the first 60 Starlink satellites into space in late May.

The Federal Communications Commission has approved SpaceX for about 12,000 satellites within its Starlink constellation. SpaceX will need about 12 launches of 60 satellites each to reach moderate global connectivity.

Earlier this year, the company said it was hoping to start increasing its cadence of launches to as many as six Starlink launches by the end of 2019, allowing it to offer continuous coverage of the planet’s most populated regions sooner. But that dream hasn’t yet been realized.

It’s unclear how many more Starlink missions SpaceX may be able to squeeze in before the end of the year.

In September, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said the company hopes to have up to 24 Starlink launches in 2020.

If the complex endeavor, which CEO Elon Musk called “one of the hardest engineering projects” he’s ever seen, is successful, it could help SpaceX raise the capital it needs to fund developing more advanced and reusable rockets.

As it is, next week’s Starlink launch will be another push into SpaceX’s goal of full reusability.

It’ll be the first launch that reuses a payload fairing — the two-piece shell that holds the satellites for deployment. The fairing that will be used in the Starlink launch was caught for the first time by SpaceX’s “Ms. Tree,” a recovery vessel with a built-in net, after a June Falcon Heavy launch from the Space Coast.

It’ll also be the first launch that’ll reuse a booster for the fourth time.

So far, some of Starlink’s capabilities have been put to the test. Musk showed off the satellites’ connectivity last month, when he tweeted “Sending this tweet through space via Starlink satellite.”

When the message successfully went through, Musk followed up with another tweet: “Whoa, it worked!!”


© 2019 The Orlando Sentinel 

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