On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 22, SpaceX successfully launched its latest batch of Starlink satellites from its used Falcon 9 rocket. The Starlink satellites will provide broadband Internet access in places where service isn’t available, as well as places where high-speed Internet is too expensive or otherwise unreliable. The satellites work together, forming what is referred to as a mega-constellation.
SpaceX has already released a number of Starlink satellites, an initiative that aims to provide broadband Internet service around the world. The company is aiming first to establish coverage in the US and Canada this year but plans to ‘rapidly’ expand this coverage to nearly the entire globe by next year.
Starlink satellites are small, relatively speaking, with a flat panel design. Each satellite features four phased array antennas, a single solar array for power, and ion propulsion systems featuring ion thrusters. SpaceX says that its satellites are able to deorbit themselves at the end of their lives using this propulsion system, but assuming something goes wrong with it, the satellites will burn up in the atmosphere in as little as one year.
The latest launch involved the 60 satellites comprising the Starlink 6 batch, which, despite its name, is actually the seventh set of Starlink satellites launched into space. With this mission, the number of Starlink satellites that have been sent into space increase to 420, an increase from the previous number of 360.
It will take a minimum of 400 satellites to kick off a basic Starlink Internet service, but it’ll take double that number to boost it to moderate service coverage. This pales in comparison to the 12,000 satellites SpaceX plans to launch, a figure that may increase to 30,000 units if more is needed and SpaceX can get permission.
It’s expected that Starlink service will go live this year, but questions remain. As for the used Falcon 9 rocket from today’s launch, it touched down after finishing the mission, making the launch an overall success.