Tonight, June 3, 2020, SpaceX launched the eighth batch of sixty satellites into orbit. The SpaceX Starlink constellation now has around 480 satellites in orbit as the company plans to have at least 800 satellites in orbit by the end of the year to start testing services in Canada and the Northern United States.
Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket took place without incident at 9:25 P.M. EDT this evening from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It was the fifth flight for the Falcon 9 first stage, which successfully landed on a SpaceX drone stage for reuse and the first time a first stage booster has successfully conducted five launch and land missions. Each Falcon 9 first stage is expected to be reused up to 10 times, but the company has yet to refly a first stage over 5 times.
According to previous company statements, SpaceX needs to deploy between 600 to 800 satellites to start offering services to Canada and the Northern U.S. The company expects to conduct Starlink launches once or twice a month through the end of the year and throughout 2021 to put over 1400 satellites into orbit for near global coverage of the populated world.
However, SpaceX needs to fill in a lot of blanks on its service. The Starlink division hasn’t discussed what its ground network architecture will look like, with suggestions by the company and outsiders it will need a number of ground relay stations and well as some sort of floating relay platform for ocean coverage to ships and planes.
End-user equipment has yet to be demonstrated or shown to the public, although there were rumors of closed-door private showings of the “UFO on a Stick” equipment at the Satellite 2020 show in March. There also has been no clear statement of what sort of end-user speeds will be delivered to customers, but it will certainly be less than the initial allusions to gigabit speeds. At Satellite 2020, Elon Musk said the network would deliver speeds comfortable enough for online gaming.
SpaceX has said it plans to consumer-style services directly to customers, but to do so it will have to offer affordable, reliable end user hardware and monthly service plans. Public posturing of mass market offerings may fall to the reality of better paying government and commercial customers.
This launch was originally scheduled for May 18, but weather delays, a launch priority for the Air Force’s X-37B reusability and finally the first SpaceX launch to launch humans into space from U.S. soil in almost 9 years ended up postponing this event.