SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared a first look on Saturday of his company’s internet satellites packed and ready for launch in a few days.
These satellites represent SpaceX’s ambitious plan to build an internet satellite network, known as Starlink. The company is one of several, including Jeff Bezos’ Amazon, which are building these so called “constellations” of interconnected satellites to deliver high speed internet from space.
“These are production design, unlike our earlier TinTin demo sats,” Musk said in a thread of tweets, adding that it’s a “tight fit” to get all 60 on top of a single SpaceX rocket.
The full Starlink network would consist of 11,943 satellites flying close to the planet, closer than the International Space Station, in what is known as low Earth orbit.
Little has been known about the SpaceX Starlink system, aside from tidbits gleaned from public filings and employees leaving the program. Musk fired the head of the Starlink program last year, four months after SpaceX launched its first two test satellites for Starlink. Musk later blamed layoffs at SpaceX in January in part due to Starlink as one of the company’s “two absolutely insane projects.”
“SpaceX has to be incredibly spartan with expenditures until those programs reach fruition,” Musk said in January.
Starlink’s technology is a closely kept secret as competition is heating up among at least a half dozen other companies, from the Canadian Telesat to newcomer Amazon. But over the past few months, filings made by SpaceX to the Federal Communications Commission have given insight into the company’s plans. The first part of the network will operate at a “very low Earth orbit.”
In a letter to the FCC, SpaceX said the satellites are now designed to be “completely demisable” when they return and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX said this means there is “zero” risk any pieces of Starlink will hurt anyone on the ground after the satellites are done being used. SpaceX also submitted an application this year to operate 1 million “earth stations” in the U.S.
Musk warned in a later tweet that “much will likely go wrong” on this first mission.
SpaceX will need “6 more launches of 60” satellites per launch to get “minor coverage” for the internet network, Musk said. A dozen launches, or 720 satellites, are needed “for moderate” coverage,” he added.