A SpaceX rocket, in a landmark launch, placed 60 ‘Starlink’ satellites into orbit on the evening of May 23rd.
Lift-off was precisely as planned – despite two cancellations last week – when the rocket launched at 23.30 Florida time. This was the third flight for this particular rocket, and the 40th when the booster stage was successfully recovered.
Minutes later, the rocket re-landed on its ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ floating barge, making the evening a total success for Elon Musk.
However, Musk has a way to go yet before his mission can be deemed wholly successful. He has now to repeat the process time after time until he has some 12,000 satellites in orbit. Musk says that a Starlink service could start with as few as 400 satellites, although the first constellation will contain 4,409 satellites.
This first batch of 60 will be used for testing. The flight was also something of an experiment in order to test how the physical deployment was managed. Normally, clusters of satellites use a dispenser to deploy each craft. On this occasion, Musk’s team deployed all 60 in one batch – even allowing for some minor contact as they drifted away from the mother-ship. Then they will use individual on-board small thrusters to get themselves into orbit.