SpaceX says it will start launching the first cluster of its Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites next week on May 15th.
SpaceX’s president Gwynne Shotwell told delegates to the Satellite 2019 event in Washington DC that “dozens” of satellites would be launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. However, Shotwell also stated that not all of the satellites would actually fully work. “This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration for us to see, and start putting our network together. We start launching the satellites for actual service later this year.”
She was also less than specific as to the rate of future launches, saying that it could be anything from 2 to 6 launches. “It depends on how we do with this first batch. [I] think we’ll get at least two more.”
Shotwell stated that this batch needed to be considered as “test class” craft, and part of the overall scheme to orbit a mega-constellation of 12,000 craft operating at between 550 – 1300 kms. On past statements SpaceX is looking to loft some 800 craft in order to start commercial services.
She also addressed the rate of launch of SpaceX rockets this past year or two, saying that 2017 saw 18 launches, and 21 launches in 2018. For 2019 she expected 18-21 commercial launches, and 16-20 for 2020, with her own Starlink launches additional to its client-based manifest.
SpaceX has, to date, launched 5 times this year. Four of its Falcon 9 rockets and one Falcon Heavy (for Arabsat).