On Saturday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed the 60 satellites his company will launch this week – the first amount of satellites that SpaceX hopes to deploy over the years to deliver global space coverage from space. Musk tweeted a picture of the satellites packed tightly inside the nose cone of the Falcon 9 rocket that will take the spacecraft to orbit.
The satellites are the first operational units of SpaceX's Starlink initiative, a nearly 12,000 spacecraft planned mega constellation that will sit on a low ground and radiate Internet connectivity to the surface below. The Federal Communications Commission has given SpaceX permission to launch two satellite groups for the Starlink project: a 4,409 satellite constellation, followed by a second constellation of 7,51
SpaceX's FCC approvals are contingent upon the company being able to start half of all these satellites over the next six years. So far, SpaceX has only launched two test Starlink satellites, called the name TinTin A and TinTin B, which flew into place in February 2018. The duo seemed to work well, according to Musk and SpaceX investors, even though the company ends up holding satellites in lower than originally planned. As a result, SpaceX successfully asked the FCC to move some of its satellites down the ground, based on what the company had learned from these test satellites.
Now the company is preparing to start the Starlink project seriously. This first group of 60 consists of spacecraft with "design design" that is different from the TinTin satellites, according to Musk. But last week during a satellite conference, SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell noted that these satellites still lack some design features needed for the final constellation, according to a report in Space News . While the satellites will have antennas to communicate with the earth and the ability to maneuver through space, they will not be able to communicate with each other in orbit, she said.
Finally, Shotwell referred this batch as "demonstration" satellites, which will test how the company plans to deploy these vehicles in orbit. On Twitter, Musk noted that the satellites are flat packed in nosekon, or payload, and there is no dispenser to distribute them to orbit. More details about the assignment will be given on the launch day, he said. The plane is currently scheduled for May 15 out of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
That * may not be my lucky number
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 12, 2019
Musk also noted that "much will probably go wrong" on this first plane. He claimed that at least six launches of 60 satellites would be needed to provide "less" internet coverage, while 12 launches would be needed for "moderate" coverage. Shotwell said SpaceX could launch two to six more Starlink missions this year, depending on how this first plane goes, according to Space News . A Twitter user was quick to point out that seven launches will be equal to 420 satellites, a number that Musk has enjoyed. But based on recent events, the CEO admits that it's not his happiness number anymore.
SpaceX is just one of many companies eager to launch large space constellations of space in order to provide global internet coverage. Companies like OneWeb, Telesat, LeoSat, and now Amazon are also working on massive constellations that will provide internet connectivity from low levels across the earth. OneWeb launched its first six satellites in February this year. But now, SpaceX is ready to get a significant lead in the race to provide the internet from space, though it seems that more hardware upgrades are still needed for future missions.