Elon Musk’s debut launch of 60 ‘Starlink’ satellites should happen on May 23rd – probably. Two planned launches last week were scrubbed for bad weather and in the case of the second launch in order to update software on the satellites.
But Musk took the postponement to brief journalists on how he saw the mega-constellation evolving. While the overall plan is to have some 12,000 satellites orbiting in various planes and heights above Earth, Musk says that at about 1000 satellites the Starlink service would become economically viable.
However, he said that with as few as 420 satellites – or 7 launches of batches of 60 craft – then a limited service would be possible, and that just 12 Starlink craft would serve the US.
“It will be a little bit different looking deployment than people are used to,” Musk told reporters in a conference call. “It’s going to be a very slow deployment where we rotate the stage, and each of the satellites on the stack has a slightly different amount of rotational inertia. So there’s not actually a spring-based or specific deployment mechanism per satellite,” he added. “The satellites will kind of be deployed, it’s almost like spreading a deck of cards on a table. This will be kind of weird compared to normal satellite deployments.”
Musk did not expand on the likely cost of the “medium-sized pizza” antennas needed by users on the ground, but stated that each launch would add Terabits of extra capacity to the overall system.
As to the launch of the satellites, they will be placed into orbit at about 440 kms above Earth and use their own thrusters to raise themselves to their target orbit of 550 kms and where tests can then take place.