We, and especially SpaceX, probably imagine rocket launches that take off any time just like planes. Reality, however, is that such launches are at the mercy of the weather even more than planes are. That’s pretty much the reason why SpaceX postponed the launch of its ambitious satellites twice. They say third time’s a charm and, finally, 60 satellites from Elon Musk’s Starlink vision are now on their way to float around the earth and bring the Internet connection of the future.
SpaceX has made its own history by making its largest satellite launch in terms of numbers. The flat Starlink satellites may only be around 500 lbs each but this batch of 60 marks the critical first deployment of a constellation that will eventually number 12,000. It was, therefore, crucial for SpaceX to test that it could deploy 60 before it attempted to launch hundreds and thousands.
The actual launch of the satellites themselves may have looked disappointing taken in isolation. The 60 satellites, all crammed in a single structure, detached from the Falcon 9 second stage that carried it into orbit. Since that structure had no deployment mechanism, the satellites simply floated apart from each other like a deck of cards, as SpaceX described it. The satellites will then use their small boosters to push themselves to an orbit of 550 km in the next few days. Scrub to the 1:22:30 mark in the video below to see the actual deployment stage.
60 out 12,000 is a small but crucial step to realizing Musk’s ambitions for a constellation of satellites that will deliver Internet connectivity anywhere in the world. It has to make a few more (successful launches), each one with more satellites in the payload.
As for that Falcon 9 first stage that pushed the satellites off terra firma, that safely landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship floating around on the Atlantic. That rocket has now been used three times, cementing SpaceX’s capability in reusing rockets.