Today SpaceX will launch its third batch of 60 Starlink satellites, part of the company’s ongoing effort to build a mega-set of spacecraft which will be linked to the planet below. After a successful launch, SpaceX will have 180 spacecraft on-orbit, making it even closer to having the most satellites on Earth at once.
One of the satellites on the mission will be somewhat different from the other 59. One side of the satellite is covered with a material to make the vehicle look darker in orbit. SpaceX takes this step to address concerns expressed by the astronomical community that is worried that the Starlink satellite constellation will muck their universe observations.
It turns out that the Starlink satellites in SpaceX are bright — more than the standard satellite. After the company started its first batch in May 2019, satellite trackers and astronomers soon became aware of the intensity of the 60 spacecraft in the sky. This made scientists afraid of the potential interference of the Starlink cluster with their future work.
Astronomers usually take long-exposure photographs of the night sky with land-based telescopes to obtain accurate observations of distant cosmic bodies. Nevertheless, when a luminous satellite passes through the telescope, it produces a white strike through the image, which obscures the result.
The proposed size of this constellation adds to the concerns of astronomers. SpaceX will deploy an enormous number of satellites in a low orbit to give global Internet coverage from around the world so that at least one spacecraft can always be given the planet.
SpaceX is already approved by the Federal Communications Commission to launch almost 12, 000 satellites, and the company has recently requested access by the International Telecommunications Union, an international satellite regulator, to launch an additional 30, 000 satellites. With so many luminous satellites flying overhead, in the future, the night sky would look very different— with so many small bright points zooming overhead no matter where on Earth.
Nevertheless, by darkening Starlink satellites, SpaceX could lessen the impact of the Starlink constellation and help to protect the view of the Universe by astronomers. It depends, of course, on how this coating stays in a vacuum. In December, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell noted that it would be enough to darken the rocket to launch this one-coated satellite.
Whatever the trial, SpaceX is pushing forward at breakneck pace with its Starlink missions. The company plans to start two other purposes with 60 satellites per satellite within the coming month. In the end, this year aims to launch a rocket loaded with 60 satellites every few weeks. SpaceX is in the race to start half of its first 12,000 satellites by 2024 to meet its FCC permit.
For the launch tonight, SpaceX uses one of the previous Falcon 9 rockets. This is the fourth journey into space for the rocket, a rare feat for one of SpaceX’s vehicles. Only four times, the company has launched another Falcon 9 rocket.
Tonight’s rocket is also set to land on one of the Atlantic Ocean’s SpaceX drone ships. If that’s okay, the rocket could fly a fifth time. SpaceX has five attempts to fire a single rocket. After its launch, the company plans to capture part of the nose of the rocket with one of its net-switching boats.
Liftoff is scheduled for 9:19 PM ET at SpaceX’s launch site at Florida Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch is also controlled by the 45th Space Wing of the Air Force, which has previously supervised launches from the cap, which will be the first launch of the agency under the current U.S. Space Force.
The 45th Space Wing was integrated into the space force by the National Defense Authorisation Act, which was signed in December by Congress and President Trump.
The weather for the mission today looks good for launch with more than 90 percent chance, according to the 45th Space Wing. SpaceX’s launch coverage will start 15 minutes before departure.