Aerospace manufacturer SpaceX on Wednesday delayed the launch of Starlink satellites by a day because of excessive upper-atmospheric winds, according to a statement released by the company on social networking website Twitter. The winds, it said, posed a potential threat to the spacecraft.
With today’s launch, SpaceX will be making use of a backup launch window available to it in case of unexpected weather conditions. A live stream will broadcast the event free of cost from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Musk Optimistic About Chances of Success
Sixty Starlink satellites aboard the Falcon 9 rocket are to be deployed in orbit around Earth for beaming internet services back down for potential users. Each satellite weighs approximately 500 pounds and features a single solar array for power, the company has revealed.
According to SpaceX, the satellites will be deployed in orbit at almost 274 miles above ground a little over an hour after the launch vehicle has taken off from the Space Launch Complex. A propulsion system built onto the satellites will then propel them to an operational altitude of almost 342 miles above the ground.
The New York Times reports that the satellites will be switched on two or three hours after they have been deployed. The total payload on the Falcon 9 for this mission is almost 30,000 pounds, which is the heaviest payload taken into space by the company to date, according to Musk.
The billionaire has warned reporters that there is a small possibility that some of the satellites on board Falcon 9 might not work given the infancy of the technology used to manufacture and launch them. However, he added that he was optimistic about the chances of their success since they featured a great design.
Starlink Mission To Justify High Cost?
The Starlink mission of SpaceX envisions the eventual deployment of thousands of such satellites into a low-earth orbit for providing potential customers down on earth a low latency, high bandwidth internet service.
Usually, communications satellites operate in geostationary orbits at an altitude of 22,369 miles above ground, rotating at the speed of Earth. This means that they look down on the same spot of Earth all day, limiting their coverage and increasing lag. Starlink’s low-earth orbits will reduce lag and provide better coverage. In other words, they’ll orbit at higher speeds and cover larger distances once the constellation of satellites is complete.
While outlining his plan for the Starlink constellation, Musk has said that the goal will be to get internet services to places where the internet is either non-existent or expensive. This suggests the initial target audience of these satellites might not be urban city centers, but more rural, remote places around the world.
According to a report in Wink News, the Starlink mission of SpaceX will cost in excess of $10 billion, and the satellites launched would be deployed in low-earth orbits at three altitudes between 200 and 700 miles above the ground. The sixty payloads being put into orbit on Thursday will deploy to the lowest altitude.
However, Musk has told the NYT that SpaceX expects the total revenue from the Starlink mission to be $30 billion a year, which dwarfs his estimated revenue stream for their space launch services ($3 billion a year).
Expansion of Satellite-Based Broadband Raises Questions About Space Pollution
SpaceX is not the only space firm trying to offer satellite-based broadband services to consumers around the globe. Rival Blue Origin, owned by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, also plans to send almost three thousand such satellites into space under Project Kuiper. Similarly, OneWeb has already launched the first set of satellites as part of a global broadband network.
The number of satellites that each of these private space firms wants to put into orbit around the earth has naturally raised questions about the space debris (satellites have definite life-spans) and the management of these constellations in orbit since they will be traveling at very high speeds. The Union Of Concerned Scientists believes there were 2000 satellites in orbit around earth last year.
However, Musk is not too worried about collisions in space, as he has outlined that each Starlink satellite holds data on orbiting space debris and would automatically adjust the path to avoid any accidents. In addition, Musk told reporters on Wednesday evening that 95 percent of the components on a Starlink satellite will burn after the end of the satellite life-span, which is above industry standards in this regard.
SpaceX is still a very small company and the high cost of innovation in rocket technology gives them just enough profit to stay in business for now. However, with the amount of money being poured into satellite-based broadband, it seems like billionaire Musk is banking heavily on this project to eventually finance his dream of putting permanent human settlements into space.