A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket delivered the payload of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. Falcon 9’s first stage supported a Starlink mission in May 2019, the Iridium-8 mission in January 2019, and the Telstar 18 VANTAGE mission in September 2018.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on January 10, 2020

SpaceX, the Californian space rocket manufacturer business founded by CEO Elon Musk, has sent another 60 satellites into space, bringing the total number to 180 and making SpaceX the operator of the largest satellite fleet in space.

The 60 Starlink satellites, designed to provide cheap and efficient internet service to people across the world, adds to the 2000 satellites orbiting round the earth.

SpaceX has permission from the US Federal Communications Commission to launch up to 12,000 Starlink craft and has filed paperwork with the International Telecommunication Union for the potential use of 30,000 additional satellites. Elon Musk said last year that Starlink might be economically viable with about 1,000 satellites.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket delivered the payload of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 9:19 pm EST on 6 January.

Falcon 9’s first stage supported a Starlink mission in May 2019, the Iridium-8 mission in January 2019, and the Telstar 18 VANTAGE mission in September 2018.

“Liftoff! Go, Starlink, go, Falcon (on the) Space Force inaugural launch,” a SpaceX launch commentator said. The mission was the first launch under the command of the US Space Force, a military branch that US President Donald Trump signed into law last month.

If the two previous 60-member Starlink launches, which occurred in May and November of last year, are any guide, these newly orbited satellites will be quite visible to observers under clear, dark skies, at least for the moment. The tightly clumped spacecraft will look like a bright string of pearls moving across the firmament, Space reported.

To help you know when and where to look go to tracking websites Heavens-Above.com, N2YO.com and CalSky. Follow the instructions and you will be given observing instructions tailored to your particular location on Earth.

SpaceX, Starlink, satellites

The bright string-of-pearls view won’t last forever, however. The operational altitude of these Starlink satellites is 340 miles (550 km), and they’ll make their way up there via thruster firings over the next one to four months, SpaceX representatives wrote in a mission description.

As they climb, the spacecraft will spread out and become dimmer, partly because they’ll shift their solar arrays out of a special low-altitude, low-drag orientation.

“Once the satellites reach their operational altitude of 550 km and begin on-station service, their orientation changes and the satellites become significantly less visible from the ground,” SpaceX representatives wrote in the mission description.

Russia launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, on 4 October 1957. Since then, about 8,900 satellites from more than 40 countries have been launched but only 2,000 are functional.