In May of 2019, Elon Musk began delivering on his promise to create a constellation of satellites (named Starlink) that would offer broadband internet access. It all started with the launch of the first sixty Starlink satellites and was followed by Musk sending the inaugural tweet using the service this past October. Earlier today, another batch of Starlink satellites was sent into space as part of a live-streamed launch event.
The mission, known as Starlink-1, saw the launch of another 60 satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Unlike previous launches, this mission involved the latest version of Starlink (Starlink 1.0), which feature a number of upgrades and refinements over the previous version (Starlink 0.9) and made this mission the heaviest Starlink launch to date.
As usual, SpaceX live-tweeted the event, providing key mission updates in realtime. This included the launch, which took place at 09:57 AM EST (06:57 AM PST), the fairings deploying roughly four minutes later, the recovery of the first stage at sea by 10:05 AM EST (07:05 AM PST), and the successful deployment of the 60-satellite payload by 10:57 AM EST (07:57 AM PST).
Whereas the previous batch was a simplified version that broadcast only in the Ku-band, these upgraded versions broadcast in both the Ka- and Ku-bands. The new satellites also take advantage of new components that are “100% demisable”, which will allow them to quickly burn up in Earth’s atmosphere at the end of their service.
This is in keeping with SpaceX’s commitment to limit the problem of space debris – which includes deploying Starlink satellites to a low operational altitude of 550 kilometers (340 mi). The company has indicated that it will be offering internet service in parts of the US and Canada after six launches, which they intend to complete by the end of the year. They intend to expand this to global coverage by 24 launches (totaling 1,440 satellites).
The deployment of this latest batch was also a milestone in terms of SpaceX’s reusability record since the Falcon 9 that was used performed its fourth successful flight and landing – which took place at sea aboard the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY). This makes the booster (B1048) the first Falcon 9 first stage to complete this many missions and brings SpaceX a step closer towards full reusability with its launchers.
On top of that, Starlink-1 was the first mission where the payload fairings were also reused. The fairings had previously been part of the Arabsat 6A launch in April of 2019, which saw a Falcon Heavy rocket deploying the Arab League-owned communications satellite. This is made even more impressive by the fact that the fairings were put through some extreme conditions on that mission.
This recovery and reuse signals that SpaceX is closer to regular fairing reuse, something which Musk first mentioned in April 2016 and which the company began to do a year later. By retrieving and reusing fairings, SpaceX estimates that an additional 10% of mission costs can be recouped (which works out to $6 to $10 million for launches using the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, respectively).
The fairings were retrieved at sea shortly after liftoff by the company’s two recovery vessels, “Ms. Tree” and “Ms. Chief”. In this respect, the success of this latest mission has brought Starlink a step closer to providing satellite-based internet services and further established SpaceX as the number one developer of retrievable and reusable launch vehicles.
The full video of the live stream can be watched below: