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SpaceX will launch its first 60 satellites delivering the Internet from space



Elon Musk's rocket company will attempt to move a batch of 60 satellites into a near-earth orbit on Wednesday. This is the first for a mega-constellation of satellites called SpaceX Starlink. The launch is scheduled for 22:30 (CET) in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The launch is a small part of what SpaceX is ultimately aiming for as a much larger project: a group of potentially thousands of satellites moving across the Earth, so the company could eventually make low-cost Internet available to a significant portion of the world's population who is not online yet.

If SpaceX succeeds on Wednesday, the launch would be the biggest test so far for any company attempting such a project. It could even lead SpaceX to beat competitors like Amazon and SoftBank-backed OneWeb who each want to build their own Internet constellations.
The project is still in its infancy. The first 60 satellites are a kind of test: Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX, said at a conference last week that, according to Space News, they are not exactly what the company plans to produce for Starlink in series. While the satellites will be nearly fully functional on Wednesday, Shotwell's launch will test how the large bank of satellites can be safely launched into orbit without colliding or landing at the wrong altitude.
"Much is likely to go wrong on this mission," Musk said in a tweet . He added that SpaceX will require another six missions before Starlink can provide "minor" Internet coverage, and another 12 launches are required to provide "moderate services".

Currently, the Internet is mainly provided via wireless cell towers or cables to your home or office. This leaves extremely rural or impoverished communities without affordable access. There are satellite-based Internet options, but these services are notoriously slow, expensive or unreliable. (The Wi-Fi you get, for example, aboard a transatlantic flight, is supplied by satellites.)

The biggest problems with satellite Internet services are currently that it's too expensive for ordinary consumers, and the satellites are also SpaceX's one of several companies looking to revise the Internet deployment. The idea is to set up tiny satellites that remain much closer to home in orbit. However, in near-Earth orbit, satellites blaze across the sky extremely fast – which requires a massive "mega-constellation" to bridge the lower altitudes and avoid disruption.

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SpaceX has competition from other financially strong companies. OneWeb and Amazon are the big ones, but there are also lesser known companies like LeoSat and Telesat.

Amazon ( AMZN ) unveiled their plans for the Kuiper Project last month. And rival OneWeb, which has attracted billions of dollars of business investment, including SoftBank ( SFBTF ) and Qualcomm ( QCOM ) already uses the first six satellites of its constellation.

A successful start on Wednesday would surely "bring SpaceX to the top," said Shagun Sachdeva, an analyst at Northern Sky Research.

But Sachdeva has raised questions about whether spaceX should plan a constellation of satellites that could ultimately amount to 12,000.

It expects the company to reach a watershed when it no longer pays to use new satellites. For example, the company will not benefit greatly from completely covering the oceans.

"It is crucial to recognize the point where" the costs outweigh the benefits, "she wrote in a recent report.

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