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SpaceX pressing ahead with planned launch of more satellites

After a planned launch Monday, weather permitting, SpaceX will have boosted 240 Starlink internet relay satellites into orbit in a rapid-fire push to deploy a globe-spanning constellation of broadband beacons. By mid-2020, the company hopes to have more than 700 satellites in space, enough to begin offering commercial satellite broadband service across much of North America

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Professional and amateur astronomers alike worry the reflectivity and radio emissions from the Starlink satellites, and rival constellations being built by competitors, will impact sensitive observations. SpaceX officials say the company is working on techniques to minimize the threat, but launches are proceeding in the meantime

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the fourth batch of 60 Starlink satellites was scheduled for launch Monday from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 9:49 a.m. ET.

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SpaceX had hoped to launch the rocket last week, but high winds and rough seas in the offshore booster recovery zone prompted repeated delays.


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The forecast Monday called for only a 50-50 chance of acceptable conditions because of possibly thick clouds and generally "disturbed" weather due to a low pressure system over the Gulf of Mexico. Conditions improve to 80% "go" on Tuesday should the flight be delayed again.

As usual, SpaceX plans to recover the Falcon 9's first stage after it boosts the upper stage and its 60-satellite Starlink payload out of the lower atmosphere. Landing on the droneship "Of Course I Still Love You" northeast of Cape Canaveral is expected about eight-and-a-half minutes after launch.

SpaceX recovery crews on two other ships, the "Ms. Tree" and "Ms. Chief," were also expected to attempt recovery of the two halves of the protective payload fairing about 35 minutes later.

SpaceX has regulatory approval to launch more than 12,000 mass-produced Starlink satellites in multiple orbital planes and altitudes, a vast constellation intended to beam uninterrupted commercial broadband signals to customers with small user terminals in under-served areas around the world.

By mid-2020, after a dozen Falcon 9 flights, enough satellites will be in orbit to provide limited coverage across most of the continental United States and Canada. Gaps near the equator will still exist until more orbital planes can be populated.

"Twelve launches gets us connectivity with no gaps down to a latitude of roughly 25 degrees (north and south latitude)," SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell told reporters late last year. "And then 24 missions gets us global coverage with no data gaps."

"So what's preventing us from providing service? Getting the right number of satellites up in orbit. We will start offering service (in mid-2020) because we have those 12 launches."

Posted on  January 28, 2020

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