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SpaceX launches 60 Internet satellites and delivers them like a deck of cards



  The Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad with the Starlink cargo put into the payload fairing.
Enlarge / The Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad with the Starlink cargo fairing inserted into the payload.

When the weather and rocket Falcon 9 work together, the first batch of SpaceX Internet satellites will launch from Florida on Wednesday night. With a mass of 1

8.5 tonnes, this is the company's heaviest launch to date for the Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy rocket.

The Wednesday missile launches 60 Starlink satellites, each weighing 227 kg, at an altitude of 440 km. This is the first block of Starlink satellites for a potentially much larger constellation. They will help SpaceX measure performance and run tests on several key systems. In the coming months, six more launches with payloads of similar size will be added to these first satellites. These launches will bring the constellation to an initial "operational" capability.

There is no guarantee that everything will go well, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said during a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday night. "That's very difficult," Musk said. "There are many new technologies, so it's possible that some of these satellites will not work, there's little chance that all of these satellites will not work."

Starting and Sharing

The startup window will open at 10:00 am Wednesday at 3:00 pm (Thursday at 2:30 am UTC) and will close 90 minutes later. On Thursday, a backup startup window will be opened at the same time. Weather conditions are currently predicted to be 80 percent favorable for takeoff.

The first part of the launch is known to people who have previously watched a SpaceX launch. This first leg of Falcon 9 has already flown twice and will try to land on the drone Of course, I still love in the Atlantic. The actual action will take place about 1 hour and 2 minutes after launch, when the second stage begins with the deployment of the Starlink satellites.

To save mass, each of the 60 satellites will not have their own release mechanism, like a feather. Instead, Musk explained, the Falcon Rocket's upper stage begins a very slow rotation, and each of the satellites is released sequentially with a different rotational inertia.

"It will almost look like you're going to spread a deck of cards on it," Musk said. There may indeed be contact between the Starlink satellites, but they are designed to handle it.

Power up

After deployment, the satellites will turn on their ion engines and open their solar panels. You will move on your own to a height of 550 km. Musk said he was concerned about the use of solar modules and found that there are two different mechanisms of using the satellite for this purpose. He also said that the satellites have incorporated new technology with the engines as well as phased array antennas that have not yet been fully space-tested.

The satellites should control the costs. For example, anyone will maneuver with Hall effect thrusters – ion thrusters where the propellant is accelerated by an electric field. The conventional fuel for such an engine is xenon, which offers high performance. The Starlink satellites, however, will use another noble gas: krypton. It has a lower density, so the satellite tanks must be larger and it offers less power than xenon. But krypton can be bought at only one tenth of the xenon cost, which is important when a company wants to stock up on thousands of satellites.

"It costs much less than xenon," Musk said of krypton. (He joked also on a question from Ars about this fuel that the satellites were immune to an invasion from Superman's homeworld.)

During the call, Musk said that every Starlink satellite costs more than it can put into orbit production costs. The list price for a launch of Falcon 9 is $ 62 million. Considering reuse rebates and wholesale rates, this means that the construction of the Starlink satellites costs well under $ 1 million.

Business Plan

SpaceX competes with about half a dozen other companies for the development of low-latency and high-latency satellites from space. One competitor, OneWeb, launched six of its own satellites in February. SpaceX, however, seems to be far ahead of the rest of the field.

With six more launches and a total of about 400 satellites, Musk said the constellation is capable of providing initial connectivity to the ground as it reaches the point. based users. A dozen launches brought "significant" connectivity, and 24 launches brought nearly worldwide service.

After several rounds of fundraising, SpaceX has enough capital to launch the first 400 satellites and sell the service to telecom companies and governments that target low and medium population density areas. If there are significant problems with the rollout or performance of the first 400 satellites, SpaceX would likely have to return to the capital markets.

Over time, Musk expects Starlink to become a commercial success for SpaceX and its goal of building a self-sufficient city on Mars. The potential sales volume for the introduction of the company amounts to approximately three billion US dollars per year. However, the conquest of just three percent of the global Internet market could bring in around $ 30 billion. "We see this as a way for SpaceX to generate revenue that can be used to develop more advanced rockets," he said.

Musk acknowledged the validity of concerns surrounding the debris of so many satellites (SpaceX has a license to launch more than 11,000 Starlink satellites, much more than the total number currently in orbit (about 2,000) However, he also said that the 500-kilometer altitude chosen and the design of the satellites will help to clean up the constellation due to the interaction with the Earth's atmosphere.

The launch webcast embedded below should be about 15 minutes before Start to start. [19659025StartderStarlinkmission


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