SpaceX Prepares for Its Ninth Starlink Mission

SpaceX has scheduled a new launch this week that will carry a new batch of Starlink satellites to Earth‘s low orbit. A Falcon 9 rocket will transport the new additions to the internet-beaming constellation, along with three hitchhiking probes, which are part of a new ride-share program.  

Elon Musk‘s space company has been the driving force in lowering the cost of launching big satellites into space, more so since the start of its ride-share project in August of 2019. This week, satellite operator Planet will become the most recent to catch a ride on a SpaceX rocket, sending up three of its smaller satellites along with 60 Starlink probes.  

A Competitive Program  

The three Planet satellites being prepared for takeoff will accompany the company’s existing SkySat constellation in low-Earth orbit. The constellation has 15 spacecraft at the moment, which are able to capture high-resolution images of Earth from above.  

Planet project intends to add three more satellites on another Falcon 9 rocket launch next month, with previous launches on SpaceX’s signature rocket. The company facilitated the launch of seven other probes into space, including two SkySats, in December 2018.  

Mike Safyan, Vice President of launch at Planet, said: “SpaceX is offering pricing that previously wasn’t really seen.”  

SpaceX has a basic price of $1 million for launching up to 440 lbs (200 kg) and $5,000 per extra kilogram. According to Safyan, the ride-share program is ‘incredibly competitive,’ and ‘one of the more significant programs for the smallsat industry especially because of the pricing, the reliability and the number of orbits.’  

Since SpaceX started to offer this service, there has been ‘more pressure on other launch providers to come up with a more competitive pricing,’ Safyan said, mentioning that some providers have started to get more creative because of this.  

Starlink Satellite [Image: Starlink/SpaceX]
SpaceX had numerous flights for Planet to choose from, with the space company allowed to launch almost 12,000 satellites for its Starlink constellation that will provide Internet connectivity for every region of the planet.  

To complete the polemical program, SpaceX has been launching its Starlink satellites in sets of 60 per takeoff, with each flight scheduled about once a month this year. This offers numerous chances for small satellites to share the flight.  

Safyan said: “When you’re working as a ride-share payload, you often have to pick one launch, and then you just have to wait for whenever that primary payload is ready. And sometimes those delays can add up to three, six, nine, 12 months. It really depends. Whereas with SpaceX, they’re launching Starlink so frequently, and the orbit is just really well matched for what we were looking for these specific SkySats.”  

SpaceX’s June 2020 Launch Schedule  

The company plans to send a Falcon 9 rocket to low-Earth orbit, which will carry the ninth batch of 60 satellites for the Starlink broadband network, as well as three SkySat 16-18 Earth-imaging satellites, on June 12th at 10:42 a.m. BST, or 5:42 a.m. ET.  

The tenth batch of 60 satellites for SpaceX Starlink constellation is set to launch on June 22th at 11:20 p.m. BST, or 6:20 p.m. ET on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, along with Earth observation micro-satellites fro BlackSky Global as ride-share payloads.  

Another SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the US Air Force‘s third-generation navigation satellite for the Global Positioning System, developed by Lockheed Martin, on June 30th at 8:55 p.m. BST, or 3:55 p.m. ET. 

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