String of lights in night sky caused by Elon Musk satellites

RESIDENTS reported seeing a string of glowing lights flying through the sky last night. Dozens of evenly-spaced out lights were spotted travelling over …

RESIDENTS reported seeing a string of glowing lights flying through the sky last night.

Dozens of evenly-spaced out lights were spotted travelling over Warrington before disappearing at around 6.15pm yesterday evening, Sunday.

Eyewitnesses in parts of Warrington including Great Sankey, Birchwood and Daresbury reported seeing the lights in the sky.

But if you spotted the strange phenomenon and have been worrying about an impending alien invasion, fear not.

It appears that the spectacle was in fact caused by satellites passing overhead, specifically SpaceX’s new Starlink constellation.

The video below shows the satellites captured on camera in Derbyshire last night:

#SpaceX#starlink satellite trails over #Winnats Pass, #PeakDistrict, #Derbyshire, #England. 29th Dec 2019 18:08 5 sec exposures #timelapse#skyatnightpic.twitter.com/pBsnBBXwcL

— Tom Sparrow (@3dSparrow) December 29, 2019

The Elon Musk-owned company launched a total of 60 new satellites into orbit in November in order to improve broadband internet connections.

And, when visible, the spacecrafts form a sight similar to a string of glowing pearls in the night sky.

In the past few months, the line of lights has sparked waves of claims of UFO sightings across the glove.

Another view of SpaceX’s Starlink travelling through the sky:

🛰 Some clear skies are expected this evening so you should be able to see the @SpaceX Starlink series of satellites crossing the sky above the county.

Look to the sky at 4.58pm when you should see a train of satellites move across the sky. pic.twitter.com/JqWzwjp7F3

— Northamptonshire Weather🎄 (@NNweather) December 30, 2019

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Elon Musk details SpaceX progress on latest Starship spacecraft build and flight timelines

The holidays might be a time of slowed activity for most companies in the tech sector, but for SpaceX, it was a time to ramp production efforts on the …

The holidays might be a time of slowed activity for most companies in the tech sector, but for SpaceX, it was a time to ramp production efforts on the latest Starship prototype – “Starship SN1” as it’s called, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. This flight design prototype of Starship is under construction at SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas development facility, and Musk was in attendance over the weekend overseeing its build and assembly.

Musk shared video of the SpaceX team working on producing the curved dome that will sit atop the completed Starship SN1 (likely stands for ‘serial number 1,’ a move to a more iterative naming system and away from the “Mark” nomenclature used for the original prototype), a part he called “the most difficult” in terms of the main components of the new spacecraft. He added that each new SN version of the rocket SpaceX builds will have minor improvements “at least” through the first twenty or so versions, so it’s clear they expect to iterate and test these quickly.

As for when it might actually fly, Musk said that he hopes this Starship will take off sometime around “2 to 3 months” from now, which is still within range of the projections for a first Starship high-altitude test flight given by the CEO earlier this year at the unveiling of the Starship Mk1 prototype. That prototype was originally positioned as the one that would fly for the high-altitude test, but it blew its top during testing in November and Musk said they’d be moving on to a new design rather than try to repair or rebuild the Mk1.

Musk also shared new details about the construction process for Starship, including that SpaceX will move its build process for future spacecraft to an enclosed building starting with Starship “SN2” in January – though mostly to block out the winds experienced in Boca Chica, since Musk says that welding for stainless steel (the primary material for the Starship fuselage) is much less sensitive to dust and debris than aluminum.

In another tweet, Musk detailed another change from SpaceX’s previous operating model in developing Starship: The future spacecraft’s development is being focused at Boca Chica currently, he said, while SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral teams are “focused on Falcon/Dragon.” Up until now, SpaceX has been operating two separate teams working in parallel on Starship prototypes at both sites. Musk didn’t detail what will become of Starship Mk2, the other earlier prototype that was currently in development at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Musk also shared updates about his tunneling company The Boring Co. (they hope to open their Vegas tunnel to drivers in 2020), Starlink (could be available to customers in the Caribbean either in 2020 or 2021) and chocolate chip muffins.

Simulation of first crewed flight of Falcon 9 / Dragon 2020 @NASApic.twitter.com/BSDPYTcVIG

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 30, 2019

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SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites Mistook As UFOs By People

Astronomers have raised their concern over the launch of a fleet of new satellites as they would obstruct their view of the universe. While the light from …

Astronomers have raised their concern over the launch of a fleet of new satellites as they would obstruct their view of the universe. While the light from these can pollute space observations, people from towns across the US state of Montana thought the light to be from an extraterrestrial source.

The ‘strange lights’ in the sky were thought to be UFOs that were supposedly invading or just visiting Earth. Local authorities had to issue statements to clear up the misunderstanding and explain that the UFOs were, in fact, satellites. The chain of satellites were also seen in other states like Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan.

The @SpaceX Starlink Satellite train! So cool you saw it!!! 😯 https://t.co/R4lchBO8cE

— Christina Burkhart (@C_Burkhart) December 23, 2019

Thank you for your observations.

You observed a train of SpaceX Starlink satellites.

I observed the same event & here are a few photos captured with a 100mm lens using a 30 second exposure (stars are trailing due to our rotating earth). Photos were taken from south Calgary. pic.twitter.com/EZ8DJGyAJu

— Astrogeo (@astrogeo) December 30, 2019

The chain of satellites is a part of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation that aims to provide high-speed internet access from space. The chain of satellites was launched on 11 November 2019, the second set of 60 satellites to be launched since May. SpaceX is going to deploy 12,000 satellites by mid-2020s which later can be increased to 42,000. In addition to SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon are going to launch a network of satellites to provide better internet connectivity.

SEE ALSO: These Star Wars-Style Lasers Could Track Space Junk In Earth’s Orbit To Prevent Deadly Collisions

According to Gizmodo, the sightings of satellites launched in May had sparked similar UFO reports in Europe. Visible as bright streaks of light, the ‘train’ of satellites might just seem like UFOs to the common people. SpaceX responded to the concerns by suggesting a solution; to paint portions of satellites black in an effort to reduce their reflectiveness.

A train of SpaceX Starlink satellites are visible in the night sky in this still from a video captured by satellite tracker Marco Langbroek in Leiden, the Netherlands on May 24, 2019, just one day after SpaceX launched 60 of the Starlink internet communications satellites pic.twitter.com/iIwOHyREiq

— Jason (@Jasonvalliere2) May 25, 2019

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SpaceX Expands and Simplifies Small Satellite Rideshare Program

Last month, though, it was SpaceX — better known for launching large rockets than small — that made waves in the new space industry when it …

The market for small satellites — and the small rockets to launch them — is hot, hot, hot!

Hardly a month goes by without some new development in this space, whether it’s Rocket Lab reaching a new milestone in small rockets launched, or one of Sir Richard Branson’s “Virgin” companies announcing some new twist to the rockets story. Last month, though, it was SpaceX — better known for launching large rockets than small — that made waves in the new space industry when it announced an upcoming series of “regularly scheduled, dedicated Falcon 9 rideshare missions” that would carry exclusively satellites massing up to 150 kilograms and put them in orbit for “as low as $2.25 million per mission.”

At the time, I suggested SpaceX was attempting to disrupt the market for small rockets before it reaches critical mass, pre-empting a move to smaller rockets by offering similar services for cheaper prices. But there was still just one problem with SpaceX’s plan:

Even scheduling regular trips to orbit, SpaceX was only planning to launch dedicated rideshare missions once per year. For any small satellite operator needing to travel to space sooner, that wait might prove too long, opening up a niche for small rocket makers: rocket launches on demand.

Now SpaceX is moving to close that gap in service and eliminate that niche.

Time lapse photo shows trails of a rocket launching and landing to form an X in the sky

SpaceX is making its mark, and claiming all of space launch as its own. Image source: SpaceX.

Monthly rocket rides to space

In a quick tweak to its Smallsat Rideshare Program announced last month, SpaceX has confirmed that in addition to its annual mass satellite bus-rides to orbit, it will now also be offering “monthly missions.” It will do this by allowing small satellite operators to hop aboard the monthly launches SpaceX itself will be running as it puts its own Starlink satellites in orbit.

Now, we’ve already run down the details of SpaceX’s original flight plan: Beginning sometime between late 2020 and late 2021, the company will offer customers the chance to book a slot on one of its “Dedicated ESPA Class” Falcon 9 launches to sun-synchronous orbit. Subsequent missions will launch roughly once per year, in the first quarter of every year, and will fly regardless of whether the rocket has booked enough reservations to max out its capacity — meaning there are guaranteed launch dates.

The big change is that in addition to these guaranteed, annual departures, SpaceX will now be offering monthly launch opportunities. Because SpaceX is planning to rapidly accelerate the launch tempo of its Starlink missions so as to get its satellite broadband constellation in operation sooner, it’s now able to use these additional monthly launches to also carry third parties’ satellites. In so doing, SpaceX can offer customers the best of both worlds — guaranteed launch dates once per year for folks who can wait that long, and more flexible, once-per-month launch slots available to those who simply cannot wait.

Adding to the attractiveness of the program, SpaceX has simplified (and lowered) the rideshare program’s pricing, while raising its capacity. Previously, the plan was to charge customers $2.25 million to launch a payload massing up to 150 kilograms. But that price may have been just a bit too close to what competitors such as New Zealand’s Rocket Lab were offering.

To make the difference much more stark, SpaceX will now advertise launch prices “as low as $1 million.” And it will carry payloads up to 200 kilograms in mass for that price, with an excess baggage fee of $5,000 for every 1 kg a customer goes over the weight limit. Basically, what that works out to is a launch cost of $5000 per kilo no matter how big a customer’s satellite is, with a $1 million minimum ticket price.

What it means for the competition

So what’s the upshot of all this?

At last report, Rocket Lab — the only small rocket maker that wants to compete in the market for launching small satellites and has proven its ability to launch its rockets successfully — was charging about $1 million to put a 12U “cube” satellite (which would mass about 16 kilograms) into orbit. For an equivalent price, SpaceX is now offering to orbit a satellite 12.5 times as large — or perhaps to orbit 12.5 satellites for that same low price.

Got a bigger satellite you want to launch? An entire Electron rocket mission, carrying a maximum payload of perhaps 225 kilograms, would cost about $6.5 million at Rocket Lab, whereas SpaceX will launch a similar-size satellite for just $1 million and change. And SpaceX is offering to launch these satellites about as often as Rocket Lab is already doing so today — once per month.

I don’t know about you, but it sure looks to me like SpaceX is trying to smother the small rocket market in its cradle. At prices like these, it just might succeed.

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SpaceX wants to launch almost 1.5k Starlink satellites next year – that’s a necessity

First reported by SpaceNews, in attendance at the 2019 World Satellite Business Week in Paris, France, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne …

First reported by SpaceNews, in attendance at the 2019 World Satellite Business Week in Paris, France, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell says that the company has plans for as many as 24 dedicated Starlink launches in 2020.

This news comes less than four months after SpaceX’s inaugural Starlink launch – placing 60 prototype spacecraft in orbit on May 24th – and roughly one and a half months before a planned burst of 2-4 more Starlink missions in the final months of 2019. By leveraging the proven reusability of Falcon 9 boosters and probable reusability of Falcon payload fairings, Shotwell believes that the company can simultaneously launch dozens of Starlink missions while still regularly launching customer spacecraft next year.

Towards the end of the #WSBW launch panel, SpaceX President & COO Gwynne Shotwell made a brief mention of the company’s Starlink 2020 launch target. It’s significant. https://t.co/JR6gsMRPeN

— Caleb Henry (@CHenry_SN) September 10, 2019

Extrapolating from SpaceX’s 60-satellite Starlink launch debut, 24 dedicated Starlink missions launched via Falcon 9 rockets would translate to at least 1440 satellites placed in orbit in 2020. In a best-case scenario, SpaceX also wants to launch another four missions before the end of 2019, potentially leaving the company with more than 1700 satellites in orbit by the end of next year.

Shotwell: anticipate our launch rate to be “much higher” next year than the ~18 estimated for this year. #WSBW

— Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) September 10, 2019

In roughly 18 months, SpaceX could thus single-handedly almost double the number of functional satellites in orbit – relative to the ~2000 currently under control. Of course, SpaceX is famous for eventually accomplishing almost every problem it sets its gaze on, but not without delays. Even achieving 12 launches – half as many as hoped for – would be a huge milestone, giving SpaceX control of the largest satellite constellation ever launched, capable of supporting an instantaneous bandwidth of ~18 terabits per second (Tbps).

Although it sounds (and is) incredibly ambitious, the reality is that that launch rate is just shy of a necessity for SpaceX to retain Starlink’s two FCC launch and operations licenses. It’s not 100% accurate, as the constellations – one around 1000 km and the other around 350 km – were granted licenses about half a year apart, but SpaceX essentially needs to launch half of its ~11,900-satellite constellation by November 2024. This gives SpaceX a little over five years from the time of this article’s publishing to launch almost 6000 satellites, translating to roughly 3.3 satellites per day or 100 satellites per month.

Decided to make a graphic of (almost) all the spacecraft @SpaceX will need to launch to finish its nominal ~11,900-satellite #Starlink constellation. Each of the 24 slight columns is 480 satellites, representing eight Falcon 9 launches. This graphic shows 11,520 satellites. pic.twitter.com/CU84ZHwfKE

— Eric Ralph (@13ericralph31) September 12, 2019

At 24 annual launches of 60 satellites apiece, SpaceX would average exactly 120 satellites per month, leaving a decent margin for failed or delayed launches and dead satellites. Nevertheless, although it’s extremely unlikely that the FCC would retract SpaceX’s Starlink launches after the company has launched thousands of satellites, those licenses also come with a requirement that the second half of the constellation be launched within seven years of receipt.

In the event that SpaceX manages to launch almost 6000 satellites by November 2024, this means that the company will have to almost double its effective launch cadence to fully complete Starlink by November 2027. It’s safe to say that, short of total corporate dissolution, SpaceX’s next-generation Starship launch vehicle will be operational by 2024, but in the event that Falcon 9 is still the only practical option, SpaceX would need to average almost three Starlink launches per month.

#SpaceX updates SmallSat rideshare mission plans.

9 Starlink rideshares in 2020

13 Starlink rideshares in 2021

3 missions to SSO in 2020

4 missions to SSO in 2021

29 total missions pic.twitter.com/fKxlxa2w2m

— Michael Baylor (@nextspaceflight) August 29, 2019

According to SpaceX, approximately a third of those 24 Starlink launches will include a small amount of extra capacity for small satellites seeking affordable access to space. Following demand that apparently far outstretched SpaceX’s anticipated interest in a new Smallsat Program, the company significantly widened its scope and lowered the base price to just $1M for up to 200 kg (440 lb) of cargo, while also announcing that some Starlink launches would include latent capacity. Public schedules show that as many as 9 Starlink missions could feature additional smallsats in 2020, followed by up to 13 in 2021.

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