SpaceX has successfully launched a new batch of Starlink satellites, after the delayed Starlink 17 mission finally blasted off with its internet-expanding cargo. The mission had been due to take place at the end of February, but inclement weather among other issues forced SpaceX to postpone it several times.
Today, though, proved to be the right day for it. The Falcon 9 rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) this morning, and that wasn’t the only thing which went right.
In fact, the whole thing was a triumph of recycling, too. The first stage rocket booster, for example, has now flown on eight missions in total. SpaceX successfully landed it on the Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which was patiently waiting for the booster out in the Atlantic Ocean.
One half of the Falcon 9 fairing, meanwhile, had been used on three earlier Starlink missions. The other half was a veteran of two such launches. It’s all part of SpaceX’s goal of demonstrating it can cut launch costs significantly by making regular reuse of rocket parts that would once have been single-shot components.
Out in orbit, it was a chance for the Starlink constellation to grow in number. A little over an hour after launch, sixty new satellites were released, soon to scatter through to establish their position in the mesh like seeds from a space-age flower. It’ll take a little while for SpaceX to know that they’re all running properly, however.
It’s another step in SpaceX’s goal to expand Starlink coverage to eventually blanket the planet in satellite internet service. Currently in beta – and having just recently opened up to new sign-ups – the project eschews traditional, ground-based internet options like cable, DSL, and 5G, and instead uses an auto-adjusting satellite dish to communicate with the constellation.
For the moment, it’s still a work-in-progress, with SpaceX warning that speeds and latencies could be worse than traditional broadband, and that Starlink service could even cut out periodically depending on user location and the state of the satellite mesh. All the same, the medium-term goal is ambitious. Elon Musk has said he expects speeds to effectively double or better toward the end of the year, with latencies halving.
For coverage, though, nothing less than more satellites will do. SpaceX has aggressive deployment plans for that, and we’re expecting multiple launches over the coming months with Starlink growing each time. As that happens, the company will be able to onboard new subscribers, each paying around $500 for the initial kit and then $99 per month for service.