CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – SpaceX, the private rocket company of high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, launched the first batch of 60 small satellites in a low Earth orbit on Thursday for Musk new Starlink internet service.
FILE PHOTO: SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft is on launch pad 39A prior to the uncrewed test flight to the International space station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the satellites blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in around 10:30 a.m. local time (0230 GMT Friday), clearing a major hurdle for a business enterprise that Musk hopes will generate much needed cash for his bigger ambitions in space.
The launch was a week after two back-to-back countdowns for the mission were scrubbed, once by the high winds over the Cape and the next night to work satellite software and “triple-check” all of the systems.
The 60 satellites flown in the space are released in orbit as planned about an hour after Thursday at the launch, and the Falcon 9 from the main-stage reusable booster rocket flew back down to Earth for a successful landing on a ship, floating in the Atlantic ocean.
SpaceX said that it will probably still be a day to learn, or all the satellites used were good. Each weighs about 500 pounds (227 kg), making them the heaviest cargo aloft by SpaceX to date.
They represent the first phase of a planned constellation capable of beaming signals for high-speed internet service from space to paying customers from all over the world.
Musk has said that he sees the new Starlink venture as an important new revenue stream for his California-based Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, which launch the income he expected from the approximately $3 billion per year.
He told reporters last week that makes Starlink central in helping to pay for his larger objectives of the development of a new spaceship to fly paying customers to the moon and eventually try to colonize Mars.
“We think this is an important stepping stone on the way to the creation of a self-contained city on Mars and a base on the moon,” said the billionaire Musk, who is also chief executive officer of automaker Tesla Inc.
At least 12 launches carrying similar payloads are needed to enable the constant internet coverage of most of the world, Musk said. For now, Starlink is allowed only for the U.S. operations.
Musk faced with heavy competition. Airbus SE-backed OneWeb launched her own clutch of satellites in February, while LeoSat Companies and Canada’s Telesat are also engaged in the construction of data networks.
In each network, the small satellites rotate in an orbit closer to the Earth than traditional communications satellites, a technological shift made possible by the progress in the technology of the laser and the computer chips.
Musk said SpaceX would start with the approach of customers later this year or next year. As many as 2,000 satellites to be launched per year, with the ultimate goal of placing up to 12,000 in a job.
Reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral, Fla.; Written by Steve Gorman; Editing by Paul Tait