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SpaceX Succeeds in Launching Its First Full Batch of Starlink Internet Satellites

MAY 23, 2019 / Falcon 9 launches 60 Starlink satellites to orbit.

SpaceX on Thursday successfully launched 60 Starlink satellites with its Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The launch begins SpaceX's next-generation satellite network mission to provide more reliable and affordable broadband internet services to billions.

What's next: "The Federal Communications Commission has already granted SpaceX permission to launch the entirety of its nearly 12,000-satellite constellation. SpaceX launched its first two test satellites, TinTin A and TinTin B, in February of 2018, and the company now has about six years to launch half of the full constellation to bring its license with the FCC into full use." (TheVerge / May 23, 2019)

Why so many: While there are already close to a couple of thousand functioning satellites in orbit, low earth orbit (LEO) satellite initiatives such as SpaceX and OneWeb provide several advantages including better signal strength, lower latency and the need for less power (about 1 watt) for transmission. The downside is the lesser distance above the earth means less coverage and hence the need for a large number of satellites to cover entire regions.

Space clogging and debris: With the eventual launch of tens of thousands of LEO satellites, some experts have raised concerns of clogging up space, risks of in-flight collisions, and space debris. Reporting on CirlceID, Larry Press writes: "The ESA estimates that there have been over 500 break-ups, explosions, collisions, or anomalous events resulting in fragmentation and they estimate that there are 34,000 debris objects >10 cm, 900,000 from 1 to 10 cm and 128 million from 1 mm to 1 cm. NASA says there are there are more than 20,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball, 500,000 the size of a marble or larger many millions so small they can't be tracked."

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