Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched the first of nearly 12,000 ‘Starlink’ satellites that could bring super-fast internet to billions of people.
The devices will form the first in a constellation of thousands of satellites, designed to provide low-cost internet service from Earth’s orbit.
The satellites were perched atop one of the firm’s ‘Falcon 9’ rockets, which blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 2:17pm GMT (9:17am ET).
As part of the launch, SpaceX planned to reuse key rocket parts as a means of cutting costs, employing a giant claw to try to catch reusable parts that are ejected.
It is not yet known if the recovery mission was successful.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched the first of nearly 12,000 ‘Starlink’ satellites that could bring super-fast internet to billions of people. The devices will form the first in a constellation of thousands of satellites, designed to provide low-cost internet service from Earth’s orbit. Pictured is rocket as it launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California
As well as the Starlink satellites, the Falcon 9 was loaded with a ‘Paz’ Earth imaging satellite for Spain as well as a number of smaller, tertiary payloads.
As part of today’s launch, SpaceX said it was attempting to reuse key rocket parts as a means of cutting costs.
The firm planned to recover its payload fairings, the clam’s shell-like nose cone halves that protect the craft’s payload, via a boat in the Pacific Ocean called ‘Mr. Steven’.
The contraption, four metal struts attached to a net, has previously been compared to ‘a giant catcher’s mitt’ by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
While the livestream showed the fairings detach from the Falcon 9, it is still not known whether SpaceX was able to catch the parts as they returned to Earth.
If the trial was successful, it could save the company an estimated $5 million (£3.6m) per launch and would mark a key step in making spaceflight more affordable.
While SpaceX often dramatically recovers its rocket cores by flying them back to Earth from space, today’s launch did not feature a reusable booster.
The satellites were perched atop one of the firm’s ‘Falcon 9’ rockets, which blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 2:17pm GMT (9:17am ET)
As well as the Starlink satellites, the Falcon 9 (pictured during launch) was loaded with a ‘Paz’ Earth imaging satellite for Spain as well as a number of smaller, tertiary payloads
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched the first of nearly 12,000 ‘Starlink’ satellites that could bring super-fast internet to billions of people. Pictured is one of the Falcon 9’s boosters burning shortly after take off
Pictured is the moment the Falcon 9’s giant fairing, complete with onboard thrusters and a guidance system, falls back from space at about eight times the speed of sound
This is because the rocket’s main booster was used previously, in August 2017. SpaceX does not recover boosters after their second launch.
SpaceX had to yet again delay the launch of the rocket yesterday, due to strong winds.
The craft was set to fly from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 2:17pm GMT (9:17am ET).
In a statement on Twitter, SpaceX said: ‘Standing down today due to strong upper level winds.
‘Now targeting launch of PAZ for February 22 at 6:17 a.m. PST from Vandenberg Air Force Base.’
After liftoff the SpaceX rocket accelerated to nearly 620mph (1,000 km/h) in sixty seconds (left image). Main engine cutoff occurred around 2 minutes 30 seconds into the launch. Pictured right is the rocket shortly before main engine cutoff
While SpaceX often dramatically recovers its rocket cores by flying them back to Earth from space, today’s launch did not feature a reusable booster. This is because the rocket’s main booster was used previously, in August 2017. SpaceX does not recover boosters after their second launch
The finale of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch came as the primary payload was released from the rocket. The valuable cargo (pictured) containing the Paz satellite will observe earth on a mission lasting more than five years. It will take high-resolution images of the surface of the Earth
The launch was initially set for December 22, but was delayed to February 16.
SpaceX then moved the date to February 18 to allow ‘additional time for pre-launch systems checks.’
That launch was then delayed to today so the company could take ‘additional time to perform final checkouts of upgraded fairing.’
Today, SpaceX is using a recovery boat, called ‘Mr. Steven’, that’s outfitted with massive metal claws that are rigged to a net, as a means of gently recovering the fairings, which will descend to Earth using parachutes.
SpaceX has a good reason to want to recover the Falcon 9’s payload fairing.
As well as the Starlink satellites, the Falcon 9’s payload featured a ‘Paz’ Earth imaging satellite for Spain as well as a number of smaller, tertiary payloads. Pictured is the rocket on its launchpad in California prior to launch
Ahead of launch, Elon Musk put this image of the boat and net tasked with catching the Falcon 9 fairing on Instagram. Musk said the fairing has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT FROM THE SPACEX LAUNCH?
The rocket is a single core of a Falcon 9 and stands at 229 feet tall (70-metre).
One of the companies using the rocket is Hisdesat, a Spanish telecommunications company.
The PAZ satellite can generate high-resolution images of the Earth’s surface.
The rocket is also carrying two test probes, called Microsat-2a and -2b, for a planned global broadband Internet network.
SpaceX hopes to use the satellites to start building a global satellite internet network by 2024.
A few minutes after the initial launch, the payload fairings separated from the top of the rocket.
These are an improved version of previous models and SpaceX hopes to recover them after the launch.
The fairings costs $5 million (£3.6 million) to produce and could bring down the cost of subsequent rocket launches.
To recover them, SpaceX has designed and built a grabber which aims to catch at least one of them.
Failing catching them, the grabber – called Mr Steven – will be used to pluck them from the Pacific Ocean.
Mr Steven is used by SpaceX to recover the rocket fairings. The fairings are made of carbon fibre and an aluminium honeycomb and are worth $6 million (£4.3 million). They are set to fall into the Pacific ocean and Elon Musk has called their recovery method Mr Steven (pictured) and referred to it as a ‘catcher’s mitt’
The main booster was used previously, in August 2017, so SpaceX will not be recovering the booster for a third launch.
Elon Musk and SpaceX charge around $40 million per flight.
Timeline before launch
1 hour 13 minutes: SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load
1 hour 10 minutes: RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading underway
35 minutes: LOX (liquid oxygen) loading underway
7 minutes: Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch
1 minute: Flight computer commanded to begin final prelaunch checks
1 minute: Propellant tank pressurization to flight pressure begins
45 seconds: SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch
3 seconds: Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start
0 seconds: Liftoff
Timeline after launch
At 9:17am ET (14:17 GMT) the rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California.
1 minute 17 seconds: The Falcon 9 rocket reaches Max Q, the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure.
The first stage’s nine Merlin 1D engines produce about 1.7 million pounds of thrust.
2 minutes 29 seconds: MECO- Main Engine Cut Off – occurs. The 9 Merlin engines shut down
2 minutes 33 seconds: Stage 1 Separation – Moments after MECO the first stage separates from the second stage
2 minutes 40 seconds: Stage 2 ignition – After the release of stage 1 the vacuum Merlin 1D engine ignites for about six minutes
2 minutes 56 seconds: Fairing jettison – The expensive 17 foot (5 metre) diameter payload fairing jettisons once the rocket ascends through low atmosphere. The fairings are made of carbon fibre and a honeycomb aluminium core.
8 minutes 58 seconds: ECO 1 – Second Engine Cut Off – Once in a 317-mile-high (511 kilometres) orbit the Merlin 1D vacuum engine switches off.
10 minutes 58 seconds: Paz separation – The Paz spacecraft deploys from the rocket to begin its five-and-a-half-year Earth observation mission.
SpaceX’s two Microsat secondary payloads separated after Paz.
The fairing costs £4.3 million ($6 million) to produce and could bring down the cost of subsequent rocket launches, TechCrunch noted.
The total cost of a Falcon 9 launch is estimated to reach £44 million ($61 million).
SpaceX recovered a Falcon 9 payload fairing for the first time last year.
With Mr. Steven, SpaceX is hoping to develop a more efficient solution to retrieving payload fairings.
SpaceX has launched another of its Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California. The firm attempted to recover a payload fairing as part of the mission, though it is not yet known if they were successful. Pictured is the rocket on its launchpad
WHAT IS STARLINK AND WHAT ARE ITS GOALS?
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched the first two of its ‘Starlink’ space internet satellites.
They are the first in a constellation of thousands of satellites, designed to provide low-cost broadband internet service from low Earth orbit.
The constellation, informally known as Starlink, and under development at SpaceX’s facilities in Redmond, Washington.
Its goal is to beam superfast internet into your home from space.
While satellite internet has been around for a while, it has suffered from high latency and unreliable connections.
Starlink is different. SpaceX says putting a ‘constellation’ of satellites in low earth orbit would provide high-speed, cable-like internet all over the world.
The billionaire’s company wants to create the global system to help it generate more cash.
Musk has previously said the venture could give three billion people who currently do not have access to the internet a cheap way of getting online.
It could also help fund a future city on Mars.
Helping humanity reach the red planet is one of Musk’s long-stated aims and was what inspired him to start SpaceX.
The company recently filed plans with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 4,425 satellites into orbit above the Earth – three times as many that are currently in operation.
‘Once fully deployed, the SpaceX system will pass over virtually all parts of the Earth’s surface and therefore, in principle, have the ability to provide ubiquitous global service,’ the firm said.
‘Every point on the Earth’s surface will see, at all times, a SpaceX satellite.’
The network will provide internet access to the US and the rest of the world, it added.
It is expected to take more than five years and $9.8 billion (£7.1bn) of investment, although satellite internet has proved an expensive market in the past and analysts expect the final bill will be higher.
Musk compared the project to ‘rebuilding the internet in space’, as it would reduce reliance on the existing network of undersea fibre-optic cables which criss-cross the planet.
In the US, the FCC welcomed the scheme as a way to provide internet connections to more people.
‘We’ve got a special boat to catch the fairing,’ Musk said in a press conference following the Falcon Heavy launch.
‘It’s like a giant catcher’s mitt, in boat form…I think it might be able to do the same thing with Dragon,’ he added.
SpaceX’s Dragon 2 capsule was used by Nasa to send cargo to the International Space Station.
The PAZ mission follows SpaceX’s historic Falcon Heavy launch in early February.
SpaceX launched the world’s most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy (pictured), earlier this month. Now, Elon Musk’s space firm has been approved to build a broadband network of satellites
WHY DOES SPACEX RE-USE ROCKETS AND OTHER PARTS?
SpaceX tries to re-use rockets, payload fairings, boosters and other parts to try to cut down on the cost of each rocket mission.
For example, the total cost of a Falcon 9 launch is estimated to be about $61 million.
The firm will make its second attempt at recovering a payload fairing on Wednesday when it launches a Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a PAZ satellite, from California.
In an incredible accomplishment, the Falcon Heavy’s reused side boosters landed smoothly back down to Earth on two separate launchpads about 8 minutes in.
The payload fairings are clam shell-like nose cone halves that protect the craft’s payload.
SpaceX recovered a payload fairing for the first time in 2017.
The space company has also re-used first-stage and second-stage rocket boosters, in addition to a previously flown Dragon spacecraft.
The megarocket blasted off from the launchpad at Cape Canaveral on Feb. 6, carrying Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster on a journey to Mars.
During that mission, SpaceX recovered two side boosters, which landed smoothly back down on Earth on two separate launchpads.
It was also supposed to recover the craft’s reusable centre booster, but the rocket core missed its target — a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean — by about 328 feet.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX, fresh off the successful launch this month of the world’s most powerful rocket, won an endorsement last Wednesday from the top U.S. communications regulator to build a broadband network using satellites
The Falcon Heavy mission had a pretty precious payload – Musk’s Roadster and its dummy passenger named Starman.
As SpaceX prepares to launch another Falcon 9 rocket, the firm also won an endorsement last week from the top U.S. communications regulator to build a broadband network using satellites.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed the approval of an application by SpaceX to provide broadband services using satellites in the United States and worldwide.
For several years, Musk has planned to launch more than 4,000 internet-beaming satellites in a bid to create high-speed broadband from space.