SpaceX has successfully launched its latest satellites for its Starlink program.
In addition to 58 Starlink satellites, the launch also included three satellites from the Earth Imaging company Planet Labs as part of SpaceX's SmallSat rideshare program. The program allows smaller companies to attach their payloads to SpaceX launches to get them into a series of orbits at a much lower cost than a dedicated satellite launch.
The Planet Labs SkySats were distributed into orbit on the way up, increasing the total number of Planet Labs satellites to 18. Three more Planet Lab SkySats will be deployed on a Starlink mission this summer, completing the fleet of 21 satellites.
The Starlink and other satellites were on a Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX's workhorse, which was also recently used for the historic launch of the Crew Dragon capsule manned test flight and for previous Starlink launches.
SpaceX's first Starlink satellite ride starts on June 13th. SpaceX
The launch took place on Saturday, June 13, at 2:21 a.m. from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. 1 minute and 16 seconds after launch, the Falcon 9 missile reached max q, the maximum dynamic pressure the vehicle experiences during the ascent. About 2.5 minutes after launch, the first stage of the missile separated and fell back to Earth. When falling, the first stage fires its Merlin engines to slow down the descent and land in the target zone.
The first stage was successfully caught by the drone ship. Of course I still love you in the Atlantic so it can be reused in future launches. This reusability aspect of the Falcon 9 rocket is part of what makes it so innovative, since rocket launches may be much cheaper if rocket parts can be used for multiple launches. Although SpaceX has had problems catching its rocket boosters in the past, recent launches have had a much better track record of landing these stages on the drone ships.
Once deployed, the Starlink satellites can deploy their solar systems and move away from each other and into their intended orbits. The satellites have proven controversial in the astronomical community as they may interfere with astronomical data. That is why SpaceX has developed a satellite with a usable sun visor that is intended to mitigate these effects. This prototype of a satellite is still moving in position, so we have to wait a few weeks to see how effective the sight is.