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SpaceX's Starlink satellites need a software update, but Falcon 9 is fine

After the windshear cranked SpaceX's Starlink launch debut on May 15-16, the company canceled the second attempt due to satellite software issues and delayed the launch by another ~ 7 days.

For a mission as spectacular as launching SpaceX with 60 satellites and Starlink, delays due to these satellites should not come as a big surprise. Given the sheer numbers and the fact that this is the first flight hardware based on SpaceX's radically redesigned Starlink satellite bus, this scrub is only part of the development process for new spacecraft.

For the time being, this exfoliant can be effectively used as indefinite. Understandably, debugging 60 high performance satellites – some with potential software or hardware failures – can be very time consuming, especially if those particular satellites are closer to a beta test than an actual end product. Based on comments from CEO Elon Musk, this is likely to be the case. Fixing hardware / software failures at the point of origin while still keeping in touch with Falcon 9 will likely be a great experience for everyone involved.

When SpaceX deals with the number of satellites, the company has to recognize its Starlink constellation to be able to handle the anomalies that will inevitably occur after the preparation and launch of 1000 or more satellites per year. Starlink v0.9 is simply the first – albeit shockingly big – step in that direction.

Falcon 9 B1049 is about to launch SpaceX's first dedicated Starlink launch on the LC-40. (SpaceX)

Much more important and far less guaranteed is that Falcon 9 is completely unobtrusive until the launch. Although SpaceX's third attempt is to launch a Falcon 9 booster three times, the Falcon 9 B1049 was ready to launch in the last ~ 60 hours of operation. Weather is the weather, and the first dozens of advanced, bespoke communications satellites will inevitably fail, but the stuttering performance of Falcon 9 is a little less guaranteed.

For Starlink to be successful, the starting component of the equation is just as important – if not more critical – than ensuring that every single satellite is perfect before launch, at least for reasonable reasons. A failure to act as a good steward of the space debris environment could have serious regulatory consequences. However, nothing will kill Starlink faster than unreliable, delayed launches, which seems unlikely under SpaceX's current circumstances.

The Falcon 9 B1049 and 60 Starlink satellites are vertical and LC-40 before their second start attempt. (SpaceX)

As long as Falcon 9 Block 5 remains as reliable and consistent as it has proven to be reliable, even serious issues with aspects of the Starlink constellation should resemble roadblocks rather than showstops. If SpaceX's software updates and triple-checks mentioned above are working well, Starlink v0.9 may be ready to launch from May 22-24. Keep up to date while SpaceX continues to provide updates.

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