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SpaceX will make history with 60-satellite launch tonight



Update for 11 pm EDT: SpaceX has launched its 1.60 Starlink satellites in orbit. Distribution comes up next. Read our full story here!

SpaceX will do some story tonight (May 23), if everything goes according to plan.

A two-stage Falcon 9 rocket carrying first 60 satellites ] in SpaceX's Starlink internet constellation is scheduled to lift off at 10.30 am EDT (0230 GMT on May 24) from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Together, the five dozen spacecraft weighs about 1

8.5 tons (16.8 tons) – more than any other payload that SpaceX has ever launched, founder and CEO Elon Musk said. (The previous high was 10.6 tons, or 9.6 tons, set in January 2017 with the launch of 10 Iridium NEXT communication satellites.)

Related: SpaceX's first prototype Starlink satellites is up and Running

SpaceX will also treading new ground with the deployment of this Starlink batch. Instead of relying on 60 different spring-based distribution mechanisms, SpaceX will just turn the satellites off the Falcon 9's overhead.

"Each of the satellites on the stack has a slightly different amount of rotational inertia," Musk said during a call with journalists last week.

Deployment therefore "will almost seem to spread a card on a table," he added. "So this will look a bit odd compared to regular satellite deployments. And there may actually be a small amount of contact between the satellites, but it's very, very slow, and the satellites are designed to handle it."

The 60 spacecraft will spin free to the low Earth's orbit (LEO), 273 miles (440 kilometers) across our planet. They will then use their encrypted encrypted thrusters to reach the operational height of 550 km.

Many other Starlink launches will follow this. Designed to provide affordable internet service to people all over the world, the constellation needs about 400 satellites to provide "less" coverage and 800 or so for "moderate" coverage, Musk says. And if things go really well, the network may eventually be around 12,000 strong, SpaceX representatives have said.

It brings us to another historically first SpaceX hoping to pick up Starlink in the near future.

"No one has ever succeeded in creating a commercially viable landline communication constellation right off the bat," Musk said. "I think we will succeed, but it is far from a sure thing."

SpaceX will probably have to overcome some competition to make this happen. Several other companies, including OneWeb and Amazon are planning to launch the internet megaconstellations by themselves soon.

If Starlink really succeeds, Musk's long-standing goal of Mars colonization can get a big boost. SpaceX hopes to use Starlink revenue for to fund the development of Starship and Super Heavy the reusable spacecraft and rocket company is developing to ferry people around the solar system.

The 60-satellite call will not be a SpaceX post, by the way. In December 2018, a Falcon 9 lifted 64 small spacecraft to Earth's orbit – the most launched aboard a single rocket from American soil. (India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle set the international record with a 104 satellite lift in February 2017 .)

The mission in December 2018 was the first SpaceX launch to feature a two-fold Falcon 9 first stage. The first leg that promises tonight has also flown twice before; There are also lofted communication satellites in September 2018 and January this year.

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, " Out There " (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by [19659022] Karl Tate ), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook .


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