SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket ship company, has announced that it will be launching a large number of Starlink prototype satellites into space this month. The satellites will be lacking inter-satellite links but will still contain onboard antennas and electric propulsion. The exact number being sent up into space is unclear but the firm has said that there will be “dozens” launched.
Speaking at the Satellite 2019 conference, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and Chief Operating Officer said:
“This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together. We start launching satellites for actual service later this year.”
For an operational broadband constellation, SpaceX needs 800 Starlink satellites in orbit and hopes to achieve this goal by 2020 or 2021. In total, the firm is planning a constellation made up of 12,000 satellites, according to FCC filings. This year, Shotwell hopes that the company can launch between two and six more times to put more satellites into orbit.
The firm is well stocked with rockets to accomplish these launches after it wrongly anticipated a commercial boom and expanded its manufacturing capacity to 40 rockets per year. Speaking at the same conference, Shotwell said:
“We thought the commercial market might expand to that, I think we probably wished it had, but we've got plenty of capacity to launch our Starlink system.”
It’s unclear how Starlink will manifest itself in people’s lives in future but the original plan behind the project was to serve broadband internet to underserved areas around the planet and to offer a competitive service in urban areas. The firm believes that it can utilise the revenues from this project in order to help finance its Mars ambitions, and it also expects to use the technology in order to deliver communications to and from Mars.