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SpaceX set to launch another 60 internet Starlink satellites Saturday, taking total constellation to 300

Starlink Mission January 29, 2020. (Brian Linn/TNS)

SpaceX is stepping on the accelerator to get more than 1,500 internet satellites into low-Earth orbit by the end of the year.

To do it, Elon Musk’s rocket company has an ambitious schedule of launches for Starlink, the company’s own constellation of satellites, that will see Falcon 9 rockets taking to the sky every few weeks from the Space Coast. The next scheduled launch is planned for Saturday at 10:46 a.m. from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 40. The weather is forecast to be 60% favorable for launch, according to the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.

The launch will be the third one this year already for Starlink — and it’s only February. Two other Starlink launches went off in 2019.

Each mission carries 60 Starlink satellites. Sunday’s launch, if successful, will take SpaceX’s current total of satellites on orbit, already the most from any private operator, to about 300.

The mission of Starlink is to provide high-speed broadband connectivity to more areas of the globe by putting satellites in a closer orbit to the planet than traditional geosynchronous satellites — and bankroll some of SpaceX’s loftier plans by tapping into the lucrative telecommunications industry. Because of the satellites’ proximity to Earth, SpaceX needs to have thousands of Starlinks in space to provide blanket globe coverage. So far, the company is approved to launch 12,000 Starlinks and is seeking approval for an additional 30,000.

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Launching about 1,500 Starlinks by the end of 2020 would allow SpaceX to provide internet coverage to North American and Canada.

But the sending so many satellites to low-Earth orbit has also created a new problem: The string of Starlinks in the night sky are disrupting astronomical data collection.

To assuage concerns, SpaceX launched one satellite with an experimental coating in January to try find a solution that would dim the Starlinks once they head to space. But the results of that test won’t come back until about early March, said Patrick Seitzer, a professor at the University of Michigan Department of Astronomy and a member of the American Astronomical Society, which has been working with SpaceX on the satellite issue.

In the meantime, SpaceX has no plans to put the brakes on Starlink launches.

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© 2020 The Orlando Sentinel

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.