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SpaceX’s 15th launch readies, but challenges remain

October 20, 2020

Building on the success of its 14th launch on October 18th, SpaceX is readying its 15th batch of Starlink craft for a possible launch on October 21st.

Currently a launch of the next batch of 60 satellites is scheduled for 12.36pm Florida time dependent on the usual weather and any last-minute technical delays.

Subject to those conditions this 15th launch will take the number of Starlink craft orbited to almost 900. Some of the very early satellites have been deliberately deorbited and some have failed in orbit, but there’s still well over 800 ready for service.

SpaceX’s very first batch of Starlink craft were orbited in May 2019.

This latest flight will be the 19th this year and the 96th overall for the Falcon 9 rocket.

The extra 60 satellites places SpaceX in a strong position to expand its beta-testing programme to a wider number of ‘friends and family’ users. SpaceX founder Elon Musk is on record as saying that a full Starlink programme could generate as much as $30 billion in revenues annually. But there are still hurdles to be overcome.

Top of that list is an affordable ground receiver/transmitter. In August firefighters in Washington state, in the north-west of the US were given several user terminals to assist with their local work during the severe wild-fires that were occurring in the region. The reports back from the users were that the terminals and equipment was “very easy to use” with a set-up taking just a few minutes.

An Indian tribe (in the Hoh Native American reservation) also in Washington state, but in an extremely remote location, were also given test equipment, with highly favourable comments from tribe officials.

Next step for SpaceX is to expand the beta-testing. But, as ever, there are questions over how the service might be commercialised. Observers cannot imagine that this hasn’t given Musk and his team a priority especially if – as he has promised – he wants to start a global service in 2021. How will he handle subscribers, how will he supply terminals, how will he finance and scale up such a global service.

These questions might make the launching of satellites an easy task…

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