SpaceX Launches The New Batch of Satellites!
In today’s article, we’d like to talk about Starlink and tell you how to see them in the sky using the Satellite Tracker app.
Updated April 7, 2021: Starlink-23 Mission
On April 7, at 12:34 EDT, SpaceX sent the 24th batch of Starlink satellites into orbit. The Falcon 9 rocket with 60 satellites onboard lifted off from the Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida, USA.
Meanwhile, other players are entering the satellite internet market. In the US, the main competitor to SpaceX is Amazon, with its Project Kuiper. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos claims that his satellites will work as efficiently as Elon Musk’s but will cost less, thanks to smaller and cheaper antennae. Another company that is building its own satellite constellation is UK-based OneWeb. It has already launched 146 satellites into low Earth orbit and plans to launch several thousand more in the upcoming years.
Many people continue to express concerns about such a large number of satellites in our planet’s orbit. The risk of collision remains the biggest issue. Under these circumstances, government authorities might need to start thinking about new international laws and regulations for satellite operators.
Updated March 24, 2021: Starlink-22 Mission
On March 24, 2021, at 4:28 a.m. EDT (08:28 GMT), the 23rd batch of approximately 60 satellites for the Starlink broadband network was launched. Now the total number of Starlink satellites in the Earth's orbit equals 1,385 units.
Although Starlink's service is only available in the northwest US, parts of Canada and UK, and some other regions now, the coverage map will continue to grow as more internet satellites join the constellation. Starlink aims to provide superfast global internet coverage with very low latency, which would be available even in rural and remote areas. SpaceX's internet constellation will likely need at least 10,000 satellites in orbit to provide coverage for most of the globe.
Updated March 14, 2021: Starlink-21 Mission
On March 14, at 6:01 a.m. EST (10:01 GMT), SpaceX launched the 22nd batch of 60 more Starlink internet satellites atop its Falcon 9 rocket. Starlink-21 boosted the total number of Starlink satellites launched to 1,325.
The first stage of the Starlink satellite network consists of five orbital shells. The first orbital shell will include 1,584 satellites orbiting at 550 km (340 miles) in planes inclined 53.0°. This is the shell that SpaceX is currently filling, and it is expected to be complete by June 2021. Once complete, the first shell will provide internet coverage between roughly 52° and -52° latitude, which is approximately 80% of the Earth’s surface.
Updated March 11, 2021: Starlink-20 Mission
On March 11, at 03:13 a.m. EST (08:13 GMT), SpaceX launched the 21st batch of Starlink internet satellites. The Falcon-9 rocket carrying the satellites lifted off from the Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida, USA.
SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk stated that Starlink internet speed would double in 2021. Customers taking part in the global beta-testing of Starlink claim to have internet speeds of up to 130 megabits per second. According to Musk, the “speed will double to ~300Mb/s and latency will drop to ~20ms later this year”. Though such internet speed isn’t unprecedented, it’s still faster than many people currently have access to.
Updated March 4, 2021: Starlink-17 Mission
On March 4, at 03:24 a.m. EST (or 08:24 GMT), SpaceX launched the 20th batch of Starlink internet satellites. The launch of Starlink-17 was postponed several times due to unfavorable weather conditions, that's why it took off later than Starlink-19. Now the total number of Starlink satellites launched is 1,205.
About three months ago, SpaceX began public beta testing of Starlink, a satellite-based internet service, with more than 10,000 customers already using it. Now the company is taking steps towards expanding the public beta by opening up pre-orders to potential customers. Depending on your region, pre-order messages state that SpaceX is targeting coverage in your area in mid to late 2021 or 2022.
Updated February 16, 2021: Starlink-19 Mission
On February 15, 10:59 p.m. EST (February 16, 03:59 GMT), the 19th batch of Starlink internet satellites was launched. There are now 1,145 Starlink satellites in the Earth’s orbit.
Starlink is in limited public beta, but a wider release beta is expected to start in about three months. The internet network currently covers only higher latitudes — between 44 and 52 degrees. However, SpaceX only needs 24 launches in total for global coverage. Considering SpaceX’s current production and launch rate, Starlink will have global coverage by the middle of 2021. This forecast, though, doesn’t include the poles.
Updated February 4, 2021: Starlink-18 Mission
On February 4, at 1:19 a.m. EST (06:19 GMT), SpaceX launched the 18th batch of 60 satellites for the Starlink broadband network. Now, the total number of Starlink satellites in orbit equals 1,083.
Earlier, on January 24, the company also launched 143 spacecraft as a part of its Transporter-1 mission. According to SpaceX, missions like Transporter will provide “increased access to space for small satellite operators seeking a reliable, affordable ride to orbit”. There were 133 commercial and government spacecraft on this flight, plus 10 Starlink satellites. With this mission, SpaceX broke the world record for the most satellites launched by a single rocket.
Updated January 20, 2021: Starlink-16 Mission
On January 20, at 8:02 a.m. EST (13:02 GMT), the 17th batch of Starlink satellites was successfully launched into the Earth’s orbit. The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the satellites lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This mission expanded the total number of Starlink satellites launched to 1,013 units.
Meanwhile, Starlink internet service is becoming available to more and more people. Apart from being already present in the northern United States and Canada, Starlink has recently been approved in the UK. People in the UK who signed up for SpaceX's public beta test called "Better Than Nothing Beta" have started receiving the Starlink kit – the router and terminal to connect to the satellites. In his email, Elon Musk said that users should expect internet speeds of 50 to 150 Mbps during the beta test.
Updated November 24, 2020: Starlink-15 Mission
On November 24, at 9:13 p.m. EST (or on November 25, 02:13 GMT) SpaceX launched the 16th batch of Starlink internet satellites. With this flight, SpaceX achieved two major milestones: it was the 100th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010 and the 7th launch of Falcon 9 booster B1049. The 7th flight of the booster set a new record for SpaceX’s rocket reuse program. After successful landing on a drone ship, B1049 will be brought back to Port Canaveral to be used again in the next flight.
Updated October 24, 2020: Starlink-14 Mission
On October 24, at 11:31 p.m. EDT (15:31 GMT) SpaceX launched the fifteenth batch of approximately 60 Starlink satellites into Earth orbit. The Falcon 9 rocket with new satellites onboard blasted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. With this flight, SpaceX has already launched about 900 Starlink satellites of a global network that eventually will provide the whole world with affordable and high-speed internet. The company plans to launch at least 120 new satellites every month to accomplish that goal.
However, some scientists express doubts and concerns about this ambitious unprecedented project. According to the astronomer Jonathan McDowell, about 3% of all the launched Starlink satellites may have failed by now because they are no longer maneuvering in orbit. This failure rate is normal, but in the case of such a large constellation of satellites, it may result in the creation of space junk, which might endanger other satellites and even astronauts.
Updated October 19, 2020: Starlink-13 Mission
On October 18, at 8:25 EDT (12:15 GMT) SpaceX launched 60 more internet satellites into space. With this 14th launch, the company has placed 835 Starlink satellites into the orbit, including prototypes that won’t be used for commercial service. This launch marked SpaceX’s 70th straight successful mission.
The Starlink network is still in the early stages. Engineers continue testing and collecting the necessary data. In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission dated October 13, SpaceX said it has started beta testing of the Starlink network in multiple U.S. states and is providing internet connectivity to previously unserved students in rural areas.
On October 6, 2020, at 7:29 AM EDT (or 11:29 GMT), the Falcon 9 rocket launched into space with 60 more Starlink satellites on board. The satellites will join hundreds of their “peers” on the 341-mile-high (550-kilometer) orbit. Previously, the flight was canceled several times due to technical reasons.
What is Starlink?
For those of you who haven’t heard about Starlink, here’s a quick recap. Starlink is a huge satellite system that aims at providing even the most remote areas of the Earth with high-speed Internet service. It has been developed and constructed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX since 2015.
The satellites are launched into orbit by batches. As of today, 13 batches have been sent into space, and now 775 solar-powered satellites are orbiting the Earth. Eventually, SpaceX plans to build a massive 12,000-satellite constellation, with a possible later extension of the number to 42,000.
Is it OK to launch so many satellites?
There have been debates about the potential problems that Starlink satellites can create. Already, there are about 5,000 satellites in the Earth’s orbit. If SpaceX’s plan succeeds, our skies will be swarmed with man-made objects reflecting light. This can hinder the work of professional astronomers whose images of the sky will be contaminated with satellites. Another problem is that so many objects can potentially collide with each other creating space junk.
In response to the first concern, SpaceX has already tested two prototype satellites with darkened surfaces: DarkSat and VisorSat. Now, all the satellites beginning with the Starlink-8 mission have anti-reflective surfaces. As for the second problem, Elon Musk said that the satellites are designed to deorbit within five years in the case of failure.
How to spot Starlink in the sky?
Starlink satellites offer a spectacular sight – they look like a train of bright spots in the night sky. You can easily see them with the naked eye if you know where and when to look.
We recommend you use the Satellite Tracker app to hunt for Starlink:
- After you launch the app, tap the satellite icon in the upper right corner of the screen and then tap “All”.
- Locate the “SpaceX’s Starlink” section and choose the mission you’re interested in (the number after the letter ‘L’ is the number of the launch).
- Tap the “Track” button next to one or multiple satellites to add them to your tracking list. Note that satellites in this list are sorted by order of their appearance in the sky above you.
- Tap on one of the satellites you are interested in to select it and return to the main screen.
At the top of the main screen, the “Next pass” timer counts the amount of time left until the next flyby of the selected satellite over your location. Tap the down arrow to open the list of passes visible from your location that will occur in the nearest future. Use this list to plan your observation time. To see the list of all passes, tap “All Passes”.
The main screen of the app has three modes that you can switch between by tapping the round icons at the bottom:
- Globe view: allows you to see a satellite’s trajectory around the 3D model of the Earth and on the Earth’s map;
- Satellite view: shows a 3D model of the satellite in its current position above the Earth;
- Sky view: allows you to see where the satellite is in the sky by following the arrow pointer.
We wish you clear skies and happy observations!