What a way to start the weekend!
SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with its ninth batch of Starlink communication satellites Saturday morning, bringing the aerospace company one step closer to reaching its goal of providing global internet coverage from space, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.
Fifty-eight of the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s second stage about 35 minutes after the 5:21 a.m. liftoff from Launch Complex 40, entering a low orbit that will eventually expand to some 340 miles above Earth. Three additional spacecraft for Planet Labs, an Earth-imaging company, were released just before the SpaceX-owned Starlink satellites.
Saturday's ninth launch for Starlink places the constellation's size at a whopping 538 spacecraft in orbit, though still short of the thousands needed for even global coverage. SpaceX is the largest satellite operator in the world by number of spacecraft.
The launch came on the heels of a new feature on Starlink's website: a small application form for potential users interested in a public beta test of the program. A private program opens this summer, but public access could begin later in the year beginning with North America.
“Starlink is designed to deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable,” a welcome email from the public beta program reads. “Private beta testing is expected to begin later this summer, followed by public beta testing, starting with higher latitudes.”
Pricing for access to the constellation has not yet been announced, but CEO Elon Musk has previously said it will be competitive enough for everyday users. Much like a modem is necessary for access to cable internet, a roughly pizza box-sized terminal provided by SpaceX will be required to join the constellation.
Saturday’s launch also set a record for the company: it marked just nine days since the last launch from LC-40, the fastest same-pad turnaround in SpaceX history. That adds up to a breakneck pace that’s slated to deliver the most ever Falcon 9 launches in a calendar year.
A few miles north at Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A, meanwhile, SpaceX teams are prepping for yet another Starlink mission. If schedules hold, a Falcon 9 rocket will loft the tenth batch between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday, June 22.
Eight days later on June 30, the focus shifts back to LC-40, where another Falcon 9 will launch the Air Force’s next Global Positioning System satellite. That liftoff is slated for a 15-minute window that opens at 3:55 p.m.