Elon Musk's SpaceX launches controversial Starlink satellites

Anthony Cuthbertson
Monday 19 October 2020 14:09 BST
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Space X launch 14th Starlink mission with 60 satellites sent into orbit
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SpaceX has successfully launched the latest batch of its Starlink satellites.

Sunday’s launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, brings the total number of Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit to more than 800, forming a constellation large enough to beam high-speed internet down to Earth.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the firm plans deliver tens of thousands of Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit over the next few years, creating a network capable of beaming broadband to more than 99 per cent of the inhabited world.

“With performance that far surpasses that of traditional satellite internet, and a global network unbounded by ground infrastructure limitations, Starlink will deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable,” the firm’s website states.

The network is already live in areas of Canada and northern US, where a limited number of users have tested it.

Emergency responders in Washington State set up a free WiFi hotspot using the Starlink network for residents of Malden, which was mostly destroyed by wildfires in September.

A remote Native American tribe has also used Starlink for remote learning and telehealth appointments during the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that a wider public beta would be possible following launches in October.

“Once these satellites reach their target position, we will be able to roll out a fairly wide public beta in northern US and hopefully southern Canada,” he tweeted. “Other countries to follow as soon as we receive regulatory approval.”

Elon Musk’s Starlink space internet has already ben used by emergency responders in the US (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The prospect of thousands of Starlink satellites entering low-Earth orbit has prompted warnings from some astronomers, who claim that their presence could hinder observations and even slow down scientific progress.

SpaceX is currently working with observatories and astronomical organisations to figure out ways to minimise the impact of the satellites. Potential solutions include painting the base of the satellites black and tilting the solar panels to reduce the reflection of the sun.

In August, hundreds of astronomers put their names behind a report by the Satellite Constellations 1 (Satcon1) workshop that said “no combination of mitigations can completely avoid the impacts of satellite trails on the science programs of the coming generation.”

The concerns have not slowed Starlink’s roll out, with the next Starlink launch scheduled for 21 October.

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