CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – On Wednesday, April 22, 2020, during the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, SpaceX successfully placed another set of sixty of their Starlink internet service satellites into their planned elliptical orbit via their Starlink V1.0-L6 mission.
This mission, the seventh batch of Starlink satellites intended for orbit, lifted off today at 3:30pm EDT from Kennedy Space Center‘s Launch Complex LC-39A. This flight featured a reused B1051 Falcon 9 booster that has already flown and landed three previous times as well as reused payload fairings from a previous mission too. Inside of that payload fairing was 60 of SpaceX’s fully operational v1.0 Starlink satellites.
The primary goal of SpaceX’s massive satellite constellation is to provide high speed internet access to users across the globe, no matter their location. This is particularly beneficial for areas that are extremely remote and/or under-served by existing internet service providers that either do not provide service to these areas or the service provided is significantly slower than other most populated areas. Eventually, the constellation could have upwards of 40,000 satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to achieve worldwide ultra fast coverage, but phase 1 of the project will see the launch of 1,600 Starlink satellites that would service high latitudes in the United States and Canada. Prior to today’s mission, Elon Musk tweeted that private and public beta tests of the service were in the works and could start as early as 3 months from now.
The Starlink project has not been received well with everyone, however. Astronomers, both professional and amateur, have increasingly expressed concerns over the reflectivity of the satellites and fear that a massive number of them in the night sky may permanently ruin their imagery. Both Musk and SpaceX have publicly acknowledged this concern and appear to be actively working to resolve the concerns of astronomers, but despite these efforts the satellites are still highly visible after launch and become a huge attraction for space fans to try to catch a glimpse of them as the satellite “train” passes over their location.
In the meantime, while SpaceX works out how to reduce the brightness of their satellites, they do provide an amazing opportunity for naked-eye observation for millions of people around the globe. If you’re interested in calculating when the satellites might pass overhead, check out the amazing tools at FlightClub.io to calculate when your next flyby might be.
This flight follows behind last month’s Starlink mission which saw an in-flight engine failure occur just prior to main engine cutoff (MECO) for the first stage booster.
Following that engine failure, the company performed an investigation of the anomaly alongside NASA investigators to determine the root cause of this engine failure. Naturally, NASA has a high interest in ensuring the safety of the Falcon 9 rocket with the upcoming Demo-2 (DM-2) mission that is planned for May 27th which will fly astronauts Bob Behnken & Doug Hurley to the International Space Station for the first time.
As it turns out, a bit of cleaning solution from the Falcon 9’s refurbishment process was the culprit for the engine failure so fortunately, once this investigation is closed, it should not result in any major delays to the exciting crewed mission that is just weeks away!