SpaceX broadband testing to ramp up with launch of dozens of satellites

SpaceX will launch dozens of demonstration broadband satellites next week as it ramps up testing for its planned Starlink service. The company says …
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the hangar after a flight.
Enlarge/ A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the hangar after a flight in April 2017.
SpaceX

SpaceX will launch dozens of demonstration broadband satellites next week as it ramps up testing for its planned Starlink service. The company says it will begin launching satellites for the actual service later this year.

This week, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell confirmed that dozens of Starlink satellites will be aboard the Falcon 9 launch scheduled for May 15, according to several news reports.

“This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together,” Shotwell said on Tuesday at the Satellite 2019 conference in Washington, DC, according to SpaceNews. “We start launching satellites for actual service later this year.”

“Shotwell characterized this first wave as a demonstration set, with no satellite-to-satellite communication links,” GeekWire wrote. “Depending on how the demonstrations proceed, from two to six Starlink launches could follow by the end of this year, she said.” (As we’ve previously written, SpaceX says its satellites will essentially operate as a mesh network, and they communicate with user terminals at customer homes.)

Commercial service in 2020—or later

SpaceX hasn’t revealed a specific commercial availability date. The latest details appear to put SpaceX on track to launch commercial service no earlier than 2020, consistent with the company’s past statements. In October 2017, SpaceX told a Congressional committee that it would launch at least 800 satellites before offering commercial service and said the commercial service would likely become available in 2020 or 2021, as SpaceNews reported at the time.

SpaceX launched its first two test Starlink satellites in February 2018, but it has changed the design since then. The changes were made in part so that satellites will burn up completely during atmospheric re-entry in order to prevent physical harm from falling objects.

SpaceX has Federal Communications Commission approval to launch nearly 12,000 broadband satellites over nine years. On April 26, SpaceX received FCC approval to halve the orbital altitude of more than 1,500 of those planned broadband satellites in order to lower the risk of space debris and improve latency. After that latest approval, Shotwell said that “Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing.”

SpaceX has said that Starlink will offer gigabit-per-second speeds and latency of around 25ms, which would make it a lot more appealing than current satellite broadband services.

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Dozens of SpaceX Starlink Satellites To Be Launched May 15

SpaceX said it will orbit at least two dozen of its Starlink small internet satellites on May 15 in what will be the first in a series of mass satellite …

SpaceX said it will orbit at least two dozen of its Starlink small internet satellites on May 15 in what will be the first in a series of mass satellite deployments that will take place until 2021.

SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell said the launch using a Falcon 9 will carry “dozens of satellites,” into low Earth orbit (LEO). These new demonstration satellites will join two Starlink test satellites now in LEO.

“This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together,” she said. “We start launching satellites for actual service later this year.”

Shotwell said SpaceX intends to launch two to six more times for its Starlink broadband constellation this year in addition to the May 15 launch. She said the number of Starlink launches for this year will depend on the results of the May 15 mission.

Shotwell said the demonstration or test satellites launching May 15 will be scaled-down “test satellites” lacking inter-satellite links. The test satellites will have capable onboard antennas and electric propulsion, she said.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave SpaceX six years to launch at least half of its initial group consisting of 4,425 Starlink satellites. This deadline was a condition set by the FCC when it approved SpaceX’s request to orbit a group of Starlink satellites at a lower LEO than the one it originally applied for. SpaceX eventually plans to have a total of nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites provide internet coverage to every part of the world.

In 2017, SpaceX said it will need 800 satellites in orbit to begin Starlink commercial service. This target is expected to be met in either 2020 or 2021.

Shotwell said SpaceX targets 18 to 21 launches in 2019, not including the Starlink missions. That launch cadence is consistent with previous years. SpaceX launched 18 times in 2017 and 21 times in 2018. SpaceX has launched five times this year so far.

“We thought the commercial market might expand to that, I think we probably wished it had, but [now] we’ve got plenty of capacity to launch our Starlink system,” she said.

In 2018, SpaceX became the first U.S.-based company to be licensed by the FCC to operate an NGSO (non-geostationary satellite orbit) constellation of close to 12,000 satellites.

Earlier this year, SpaceX submitted an application to operate one million user terminals, as well as its first six gateways to provide the necessary communications links back from the satellites to the global Internet.

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For its Starlink satellite constellation, still a mystery, SpaceX to launch “dozens” of test satellites on …

WASHINGTON — The mystery that is SpaceX’s Starlink mega-constellation of broadband satellites deepened on May 7 when SpaceX President …

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. Credit: Euroconsult

WASHINGTON — The mystery that is SpaceX’s Starlink mega-constellation of broadband satellites deepened on May 7 when SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company would launch “dozens” of Starlink spacecraft on May 15 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, but that the satellites would not be fully operational.

Assuming the launch and the satellites’ early operations go smoothly, she said at least two launches of fully operational Starlink satellites would occur later this year, and perhaps as many as six.

SpaceX has said previously that the upcoming launch would be to 550 kilometers, would have stripped-down features compared to the operational constellation.

“I don’t know if we’ve every released it publicly, but let’s call it dozens, dozens of satellites on that launch,” Shotwell said here May 7 at the Satellite 2019 conference. “This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration for us to see, and start putting our network together. We start launching the satellites for actual service later this year.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we had two to six launches at the end of the year of Starlink… in addition to this one. It depends on how we do with this first batch. think we’ll get at least two more.

Of the satellites themselves, Shotwell said: “They’re capable but there’s no intersatellite links on it. I call them test class satellites. The antennas are pretty hot on these things, they are very capable systems.”

Shotwell did not explain why so many demonstration satellites needed to be launched.

SpaceX’s initial constellation of more than 4,000 satellites was intended to operate from 1,100 to 1,300 kilometers. Those plans had been criticized by startup satellite-broadband constellation operator OneWeb, which complained to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that the OneWeb and SpaceX satellites would be too close together in orbit, risking collisions.

OneWeb Chief Financial Officer Tom Whayne said here May 6 that SpaceX’s decision to apply for a license in a lower orbit could be seen as a response to OneWeb’s concerns.

Other industry officials had different explanations for SpaceX’s change of plans.

Viasat Chief Executive Mark Dankberg, which operates broadband satellites in geostationary orbit, said the latest Starlink design appears much less capable than its predecessor in terms of capacity, but also is one that can be built and launched more quickly.

“If you look at the [regulatory] filings there are quite a few changes that will substantially reduce the capability of the first generation,” Dankberg said of Starlink’s new design. “So they have greatly relaxed that to meet that schedule. The altitude is lower, I think the EIRP is lower, and in order to get the geographic coverage they have increased the look angles they are going to support. It’s not clear they are going to have cross-links.”

SpaceX told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on April 17 that it had raised just $44 million of a planned $400 million, a financing round that industry officials said was devoted to Starlink and its revenue potential.

No one from the Starlink program makes public statements about the constellation, leaving industry observers to read employment notices and regulatory filing to glean what they can about the system’s capacity and its owners’ intentions and financial resources.

Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel, appearing on the the same launch-service panel with Shotwell, tried to spark concern in the industry about the fact that SpaceX, a launch-service company, will be the owner of a large constellation of satellites that will compete with the systems operated by SpaceX launch customers.

It’s an issue he has raised before in an attempt to cause customer disengagement from SpaceX as a launch service. Israel conceded after the session that his effort fell flat.

Aware of what Israel was driving at, Shotwell said: “With Boeing and Lockheed it’s been that way for decades. They build satellites, they launch satellites and operate satellites — some commercial and some, probably mostly, for the Department of Defense.”

With the commercial launch market in a prolonged slump, SpaceX’s having an in-house demand for dozens of launchers of Starlink satellites is seen as a real advantage. But Shotwell said the company is not yet suffering as much as would be expected given the lack of commercial satellite orders industry-wide.

“In 2017 we launched 18 times, in 2018 we launched 21 times,” Shotwell said. “This year, depending on customer readiness, we could launch between 18 and 21 times. Next year, 16-20 launches in the manifest. We’ve signed 22 deals since this show last year. So we’re still still seeing pretty strong uptake of our services and then Starlink would be on top of that.”

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The rise of SpaceX and the future of Elon Musk’s Mars dream

In less than two decades, SpaceX went from Elon Musk’s dream of a greenhouse experiment on Mars to conducting the majority of U.S. rocket …

In less than two decades, SpaceX went from Elon Musk’s dream of a greenhouse experiment on Mars to conducting the majority of U.S. rocket launches.

The early years of SpaceX reveal a company that teetered on the edge of dying out, as Musk has said. After three unsuccessful attempts to reach orbit, his team scrounged together enough parts for a fourth rocket, and SpaceX made history with its Falcon 1 rocket.

While Musk provided the vision, his company was not an overnight success. Key people, such as employees like now President and COO Gwynne Shotwell and investors like the members of the Founders Fund, helped forge SpaceX into the business it is today. SpaceX has won billions of dollars in NASA and Air Force launch contracts. It also carries payloads for private companies.

Now SpaceX is valued at over $30 billion and has more than 6,000 employees around the country. The company is launching rapidly, with a backlog of orders for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. SpaceX is facing its greatest challenge yet in 2019: Launching astronauts for NASA. If Musk’s long-term goal of sending humans to Mars is going to be realized, SpaceX must be able to regularly and safely launch astronauts into orbit.

Watch the video above to learn more about the rise of SpaceX and what is in store for the future.

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SpaceX Executive Teases Mysterious 2019 Rocket Launches: What They Could Be

SpaceX Vice President of Commercial Sales, Jonathan Hofeller, teased that the company will try to surpass last year’s launch tally during his speech …

SpaceX set a company record in 2018 by launching 21 flights and it may try to out do itself again in 2019. SpaceX Vice President of Commercial Sales, Jonathan Hofeller, teased that the company will try to surpass last year’s launch tally during his speech at the 2019 SmallSat Symposium in California on Wednesday. It’s an even more ambitious plan than the estimates floated by SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell in May 2018.

At the time, Shotwell noted that SpaceX would experience a “slow down” in rocket launches in 2019 during an interview with CNBC. This means Hofeller might have hinted at launch plans that have not yet been made public.

Specifically, Shotwell stated that SpaceX would pull off as many launches as it did in 2017, which was 18. Hofeller’s statements, first reported by Teslarati, adds at least another four to the docket, which likely means one of two things: Either the company has a handful of surprise launches up its sleeve or it’s including the Starship hopper’s “hop tests in Hofeller’s figure.”

Last May, SpaceX Prez Gwynne Shotwell was projecting 24 to 28 launches for 2018 but more like 18 for 2019. 21+ may be an “aspirational goal,” unless they’re counting Starship Hopper: https://t.co/RDbdPLA2Z7

— Alan Boyle (@b0yle) February 7, 2019

SpaceX’s launch manifest is notoriously vague and doesn’t list the expected dates of its future missions. But the SpaceX diehards of Reddit have crowd-sourced their own manifest on the SpaceX subreddit that tentatively states that the company is planning 21 total launches this year between the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy.

If the company succeeds at launching all of the commercial flights — as well as its Crew Dragon test launches for NASA — listed on the crowd-sourced list, it would just match 2018’s record. Including the Starship hopper’s test could be a way to technically break this record, but that launch record would definitely require an asterisk.

After all, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the Starship prototype will “fly suborbital hops” early in 2019. All of its other launches will have to breach the atmosphere to be considered successful, which isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison with the rest of the missions laid out in SpaceX’s Reddit manifest.

Hofeller might have just rattled off an aspirational goal, but this could be the first sign of another record-breaking year for Musk’s aerospace company.

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