SpaceX successfully launches its Falcon 9 BFR rocket with its biggest payload to date – 60 satellites.

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, successfully launched its BFR rocket carrying one of its biggest payloads yet – 60 satellites.  These 60 satellites will form what is referred to as Starlink – an ambitious internet constellationof satellites which will be interconnected and are designed to deliver high speed internet worldwide to all paying customers, reported SpaceNews.   

Each Starlink satellite weighs 500 pounds and the 60 satellites weigh a total of 13.6 metric tons. According to SpaceX this the heaviest mission launched to date.  The Falcon 9 rocket, nicknamed BFR, was launched at around 11:32 pm ET, May 23, 2019, from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Nine minutes after the launch the reusable rocket booster, designed by SpaceX, successfully landed in an upright position as was previously demonstrated by video at a press conference by Ellon Musk, Space X’s founder and CEO.  It landed on a droneship in the Atlantic ocean.

The 60 satellites will be released at an altitude of 250 miles from the earth’s surface. This Starlink constellation of satellites, once they have been set in place, will transmit signals for high speed internet usage.  The grand plan is for at least 400 satellites to be in orbit and activated in order for this massive telecommunications system to go online worldwide.  

Musk says that Starlink will reach significant operational capacity at 800 satellites which will take at least a dozen more launches and it will become economically viable when it reaches 1000 satellites. Starlink is expected to go online by mid 2020.

According to SpaceNews, as many as 12,000 satellites could some day be a part of the Starlink internet constellation. This plus all the other satellites in its orbital space will one day be crowded.  The satellites though are only built to last for around 5 years, so regular replacements will be necessary.

But what happens to the satellites when they are no longer usable?  Won’t they create satellite litter and fill this orbital space with unwanted debris?  According to SpaceX’s press kit, each satellite is programmed to fall into and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere giving space to newer more advanced versions of satellites.

Each satellite can be tracked through a built in navigational system as well as technology that will keep them from colliding into each other. They will be powered by solar arrays and have thrusters on them to place them into the operational altitude of 350 miles.