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Liftoff is set for 10:05 a.m. EST (1505 GMT).
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the fifth batch of Starlink satellites into orbit from the company’s pad at Space Launch Complex 40 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Liftoff is set for 10:05 a.m. EST (1505 GMT).
SpaceX’s Starlink project is a large-scale space operation to provide global access to high-speed internet using a megaconstellation of satellites in low Earth orbit. The company envisions an initial fleet of 12,000 satellites, but could offer minimal service with 240 satellites and offer moderate coverage with 800 satellites, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said.
To date, SpaceX has launched four batches of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit since mid-2019 (two of those flights in January of this year) for a total of 240 satellites, so far. Today’s launch will boost that number up to 300 satellites.
Some astronomers have expressed concern over the impact SpaceX’s Starlink megaconstellation (as well as others planned by OneWeb and Amazon) will have on astronomy. SpaceX is responding to those concerns by studying ways to lower the reflectivity of its Starlink satellites.
SpaceX aimed to launch this Starlink-4 mission last week, but bad weather offshore was unfavorable for the planned landing of the mission’s Falcon 9 rocket first stage. SpaceX plans to land the Falcon 9 booster – which has flown three times before – on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. The two-stage Falcon 9 launched two commercial Dragon resupply missions (CRS-17 in May 2019 and CRS-18 that July) and the telecommunications satellite JCSAT-18/Kacific1 in December.
The Falcon 9’s touchdown at sea will mark SpaceX’s 50th rocket landing since the company began recovering boosters in December 2015.
SpaceX also aims to recover the two halves of the Falcon 9’s clamshell-like payload fairings (the rocket’s nosecone) after today’s launch by catching them in giant nets carried on two recovery boats: the GO Ms. Tree and the GO Ms. Chief. Each of the fairings has its own parachute, allowing the rocket part to drift down to the Atlantic, where the boats will try to catch them.
Musk has said each Falcon 9 payload fairing costs about $6 million, so reusing them could represent a big savings for the company.
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