Elon Musk-owned SpaceX will launch another 60 of its Starlink satellites into orbit tomorrow from the same type of Falcon 9 rocket that launched astronauts to the ISS.
Launching on June 13, this latest Falcon 9 mission will leave from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 10:21 BST, and will also include three Planet Earth-observation satellites.
When launched, this latest batch will bring the size of the Starlink constellation up to 540 satellites.
SpaceX is accelerating the pace of launches and this will be the second this month, with a third due on June 22 that will bring the constellation up to 600.
SpaceX has permission from the US government to launch up to 42,000 satellites into orbit around the Earth.
By the end of June, SpaceX will have carried out four Falcon 9 rocket launches in a month – including the three Starlink launches and the NASA crewed mission.
The 60 satellites launched atop the firm’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 8:55pm EDT on June 3 (1:55am BST June 4). The next batch launches on June 13 with another due to launch on June 22 bringing the total of Starlink satellites up to 600
The firm says it hopes to be able to start offering a basic internet service when it has a constellation of at least 800 satellites – likely to happen later this year.
The project has received widespread criticism from astronomers for tainting the natural view of the night sky as the satellites are highly reflective.
SpaceX has been experimenting with ways to make the craft less visible from Earth, and the Jun 4 batch included one experimental craft with an inbuilt sun visor.
SpaceX has permission from FCC to build a 12,000-strong space internet constellation called Starlink, and they will be launched under its 42,000 quota.
With that scale, some astronomers say it could significantly harm their ability to observe the night sky and study the universe from Earth.
SpaceX is developing Starlink with the goal of providing high-speed internet to everyone on the globe – no matter their location. However, scientists and stargazers have voiced frustrations that the devices are ruining the natural view of the sky
‘The goal of Starlink is to create a network that will help provide internet services to those who are not yet connected, and to provide reliable and affordable internet across the globe,’ Kennedy Space Center said in a blog post.
Previously, on the January 6 launch, one satellite was covered in a dark coating designed to appease to appease disgruntled astronomers.
However, SpaceX engineers had hoped this would reduce brightness by up to 55 per cent, but the paint caused the machinery to absorb radiation and overheat.
Now, Elon Musk’s company is trialling a system called VisorSat, which will keep antennae in the shade to stop it reflecting sunlight.
‘We have a radio-transparent foam that will deploy nearly upon the satellite being released, and it blocks the sun from reaching the antennas,’ Musk said of the system in April.
The maverick billionaire added that the reason Starlink is so prominent from Earth with the naked eye is because of the angle of the satellite’s solar panels.
As the satellites rise to orbit altitude, the are at the perfect position to bounce light from the sun back to Earth, making the satellites look similar to stars.
SpaceX is working to adjust this angle to avoid the issue going forward, Musk said.
The firm said it hoped to launch every two weeks throughout 2020, bringing the total size of its constellation of internet satellites up to at least 1,500 but there are currently now Starlink launches scheduled beyond June 22.
Astronomer James Lowenthal told the New York Times that Starlink threatens the science of astronomy itself, and if they launch more it will ‘look as if the whole sky is crawling with stars’.
Elon Musk’s Starlink programme successfully launched a further 60 satellites into orbit around Earth (pictured, the Falcon 9 rocket taking off) on June 4 with another 60 launching on Saturday from the same rocket
The problem for astronomers is that a single bright satellite can leave a streak of light across a telescope’s long exposure of the night sky and potentially block something unique or important they need to study.
This is a particular problem for wide field telescopes that are used to monitor the sky for asteroids and comets as Starlink would be particularly difficult to remove from the generated pictures using software.
The company hopes to be able to launch up to 400 satellites at a time on its Starship spacecraft in the next few years, rapidly increasing the size of Starlink.
The goal is to finish the entire network of 12,000 Starlink satellites by 2027 and provide broadband internet to even the most remote parts of the planet.
However, having that many satellites in orbit could pose a problem and increase the risk of space collisions.
Installing a sunshade on a 575lbs (260kg) satellite orbiting 341 miles above Earth is the second method SpaceX has tried to reduce the visibility of the constellation. Previously, on the January 6 launch, one satellite was covered in a dark coating, but this method caused overheating
SpaceX says its satellites will automatically de-orbit – burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere – when they reach the end of their life.
But there have already been near-collisions with Starlink satellites that are active.
The European Space Agency had to manoeuvre its own spacecraft out of the way of a Starlink satellite last year.
Soon after launch the satellites appear like a train of lights in the night sky, something that led to claims of UFO sightings when they first appeared.
Prominent comedian and science communicator Dara O’Briain took to social media to bemoan the man-made constellation, saying ‘there goes the night sky’.
In response to a user asking him for an explanation to the sight, Mr O’Briain tweeted: ‘Yep, just saw them too. It’s the Starlink satellite network, and Elon Musk wants to put a 1,000 of them up. There goes the night sky.’
His posted garnered more than 150 replies from others who shared his disdain.
Before then, astronomers had already called plans for the high-speed global internet a ‘tragedy’ and said they are getting in the way of key scientific observations.
‘The night sky is a commons — and what we have here is a tragedy of the commons,’ Imperial College London astrophysicist Dave Clements told the BBC.
The proposed constellations, he added, ‘present a foreground between what we’re observing from the Earth and the rest of the Universe.
‘So they get in the way of everything. And you’ll miss whatever is behind them, whether that’s a nearby potentially hazardous asteroid or the most distant quasar in the Universe.’
ELON MUSK’S SPACEX SET TO BRING BROADBAND INTERNET TO THE WORLD WITH ITS STARLINK CONSTELLATION OF SATELLITS
Elon Musk’s ‘Starlink’ satellites form a constellation of thousands of satellites, designed to provide low-cost broadband internet service from low Earth orbit.
The constellation, informally known as Starlink, are 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 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.