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SpaceX will write history with today's launch of 60 satellites

Update for 23:00 EDT: SpaceX has successfully launched its first 60 Starlink satellites. Deployment is next. Read our full story here!

SpaceX will make history this evening (May 23) if everything goes according to plan.

A two-stage Falcon 9 rocket with the first 60 satellites in the Starlink Internet constellation of SpaceX is scheduled to launch at 22.30 EDT (0230 GMT on May 24) from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Together, the five dozen spaceships weigh approximately 18.5 tons (16.8 tons) – more than any other payload ever launched by SpaceX, company founder and CEO said Elon Musk . (The previous high was 1

0.6 tons, or 9.6 tons, which was set in January 2017 with the launch of 10 Iridium NEXT communications satellites.)

Related: SpaceX's first prototype Starlink Satellites Are Up and Running

SpaceX will break new ground with the provision of this Starlink stack. Instead of relying on 60 different spring-based trigger mechanisms, SpaceX simply turns the satellites from the top of the Falcon 9

"Each of the satellites on the stack has a slightly different rotational inertia," Musk said during a week ago Phoning reporters.

The bet "will look almost like putting a deck of cards on a table," he added. "So that's going to look a bit strange compared to normal satellite deployments, and there may actually be a small amount of contact between the satellites, but it's very, very slow, and the satellites are designed for that."

60 spacecraft will be freed to orbit (LEO) 273 miles (440 kilometers) above our planet. They will then use their on-board krypton engines to reach their operational altitude of 342 miles (550 km).

Many other Starlink launches will follow this. The constellation, designed to provide affordable Internet service to people around the world, requires about 400 satellites to provide "low" coverage and 800 for "moderate" coverage, Musk said. And if things go really well, the network could eventually be about 12,000, according to SpaceX representatives.

This brings us to another historic first hope from SpaceX to partner with Starlink in the near future.

"No one has ever managed to create a commercially viable communication constellation in near-Earth orbit right off the bat," Musk said. "I think we will succeed but it is far from certain."

SpaceX is likely to have to overcome some competition to achieve this. Several other companies, including OneWeb and Amazon, plan to launch their own Internet mega-constellations soon. If Starlink really succeeds, Musk's long-cherished goal of colonizing Mars could be boosted. SpaceX hopes to use Starlink revenue to fund the development of Starship and Super Heavy the reusable spacecraft and rocket that the company is developing to transport people around the solar system. Incidentally, the 60 satellite record will not be a SpaceX record, by the way. In December 2018, a Falcon launched 9 64 tiny spaceships into orbit – the most commonly fired aboard a single American rocket. (India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle set the international record with 104 satellite launches in February 2017 .)

The mission in December 2018 was the first launch of SpaceX with Falcon's first flight twice 9. The first stage, starting this evening, has already flown twice. Communication satellites were also leased in September 2018 and January of this year.

Mike Walls's book on the search for a foreign life, " Out There " (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by [19659022] Karl Tate ) is available now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook .

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