SpaceX is in the process of deploying its constellation of internet-beaming Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. Customers from around the world will be able to access the network, even in rural areas where internet is unreliable or nonexistent. Starlink will be a constellation of over 12,000 internet-beaming satellites. As of today, there is 420 satellites in low Earth orbit. The aerospace company is now ready to conduct its eighth Starlink mission. A previously flown Falcon 9 rocket will lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying 60 Starlink satellites.
The launch was previously scheduled for May 17th, now due to a tropical depression developing along Florida’s East Coast the mission was delayed to May 19th. SpaceX announced: “Due to a tropical depression developing off the Southeast Coast of the U.S., now targeting Tuesday, May 19 at 3:10 a.m. EDT for the Starlink mission—SpaceX teams will continue monitoring launch and landing weather conditions.”
On Wednesday, SpaceX successfully test-fired a Falcon 9 that was flown on four missions. During the static-fire test, the Falcon 9 rocket was filled with sub-chilled propellant –kerosene and liquid oxygen. Then, engineers ignited its nine Merlin engines for a few seconds while grounded with clamps on the launch. Static-fire tests are routine preparation done ahead of every flight to ensure the rocket is ready to take flight. SpaceX has been using previously flown Falcon 9 fist-stage boosters on all its Starlink-dedicated missions, to develop its reusability program and save on manufacturing costs. To reuse, soon after launch, boosters return from space to perform a vertical landing on autonomous drone ships at sea.
To ensure the rocket has a good landing zone at sea, the weather must be favorable. The rocket recovery drone ship called Of Course I Still Love You, is expected to recover the Falcon 9 first-stage booster for the fifth time. It was deployed into the Atlantic Ocean around 400 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral. Then, on Saturday afternoon, the drone ship began moving closer to the North Carolina coast as the tropical system forecast shows the storm is strengthening and moving toward the rocket’s landing zone. “SpaceX teams will continue monitoring launch and landing weather conditions,” SpaceX tweeted Saturday night.
As the tropical depression strengthens, it will become Tropical Storm Arthur. According to an online tracker, the storm has potential to pass through the rocket recovery landing zone on Monday. That is why SpaceX opted to conduct the Starlink mission until Tuesday.
This Starlink deployment will feature a ‘VisorSat’, an experimental satellite that aims to address astronomers concerns over Starlink fleets being too bright in the night sky. “We also firmly believe in the importance of a natural night sky for all of us to enjoy, which is why we have been working with leading astronomers around the world to better understand the specifics of their observations and engineering changes we can make to reduce satellite brightness,” SpaceX stated. VisorSat, will work as a sunshade to reduce the satellites’ reflectivity to make them less bright from the ground (pictured above). The sunshade will be tested out, if it works, the 60 satellites on the next mission could all feature VisorSats. SpaceX says it will also change the orientation of the Starlink satellites and turn solar panels away from the sun as they rise into operational orbit to reduce visibility from viewers on Earth.
SpaceX expects to initiate Starlink beta tests soon, company officials announced- “Private beta begins in ~3 months, public beta in ~6 months, starting with high latitudes.” The network will initially serve areas in Canada and the Northern United States. Customers will be able to access internet connection via small ground user terminals that will look like a “UFO on a stick.” The founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, says -“It will be a pretty good experience because it’ll be very low latency. We’re targeting latency below 20 milliseconds, so somebody could play a fast-response video game at a competitive level, like that’s the threshold for the latency.”