SpaceX, the private space company founded by Elon Musk, is set to launch two more batches of its Starlink internet satellites today, in a rare doubleheader mission that will take place just three hours apart.
The first launch will take place from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where a Falcon 9 rocket will lift off at 6:15 p.m. EST (2315 GMT) with 23 Starlink satellites on board. The second launch will follow from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, where another Falcon 9 will carry 22 more Starlinks into orbit at 9:16 p.m. EST (6:16 p.m. local time, and 0216 GMT on Jan. 29).
You can watch both launches live on SpaceX’s website¹ or on its YouTube channel². The webcast will begin about 15 minutes before each liftoff.
What is Starlink and why is it important?
Starlink is SpaceX’s ambitious project to create a global network of thousands of satellites that will provide high-speed, low-latency, and affordable internet access to anyone, anywhere on Earth. The project aims to bridge the digital divide and connect the billions of people who currently lack reliable or affordable internet service.
According to SpaceX, Starlink will deliver internet speeds of up to 150 Mbps, with a latency of around 20 to 40 milliseconds, which is comparable to ground-based broadband. The company also claims that Starlink will have a positive impact on the environment, as the satellites are designed to deorbit and burn up in the atmosphere at the end of their lifespan, leaving no space debris behind.
To date, SpaceX has launched more than 1,800 Starlink satellites, making it the largest satellite operator in the world. The company plans to launch thousands more in the coming years, eventually reaching a constellation of about 12,000 satellites. SpaceX has also started offering Starlink service to select customers in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, and New Zealand, with more countries to follow soon.
What are the challenges and opportunities of Starlink?
While Starlink has the potential to revolutionize the internet industry and benefit millions of people, it also faces some challenges and controversies. One of the main issues is the impact of Starlink on astronomy and space traffic.
Many astronomers have expressed concern that Starlink satellites will interfere with their observations of the night sky, as the satellites reflect sunlight and create bright streaks that can obscure or ruin their images. SpaceX has tried to mitigate this problem by adding sunshades and anti-reflective coatings to its satellites, but the results have been mixed so far.
Another issue is the risk of collisions and congestion in orbit, as Starlink adds more satellites to an already crowded space environment. SpaceX has equipped its satellites with autonomous collision avoidance systems and coordinates with other satellite operators and agencies to ensure safe operations. However, some experts warn that the current regulations and norms for space activities are inadequate and outdated, and that more international cooperation and governance are needed to prevent accidents and conflicts.
On the other hand, Starlink also offers some opportunities and advantages for the space industry and society. For instance, Starlink could enable more scientific and commercial applications that require high-bandwidth and low-latency data transmission, such as remote sensing, telemedicine, online education, and cloud computing. Starlink could also support and complement other SpaceX projects, such as Starship, the reusable super-heavy rocket that Musk envisions to send humans to the Moon and Mars.
What to expect from today’s launches?
Today’s launches will be the eighth and ninth of the year for SpaceX, which has been ramping up its launch cadence and breaking records in the process. The company aims to launch 144 orbital missions in 2024, which would be more than any other country or organization in history.
Both launches will feature reusable Falcon 9 rockets that have flown multiple times before. The first stage of the rocket that will launch from Florida will attempt to land on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, while the one that will launch from California will try to land on a drone ship in the Pacific Ocean. This will be the 18th and ninth landing attempt for each booster, respectively.
The second stage of each rocket will deploy the Starlink satellites into a low Earth orbit about an hour after liftoff. The satellites will then use their onboard ion thrusters to raise their orbits and join the existing Starlink constellation.
Today’s launches will also coincide with a somber anniversary in the history of space exploration. On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart shortly after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts on board. The tragedy shocked the world and marked a turning point for NASA and the US space program.
As SpaceX continues to push the boundaries of space technology and innovation, it also honors the legacy and sacrifices of those who came before. As Musk once said, “You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”
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