Less than a week after sending their first astronauts into space, SpaceX is already preparing for another launch of its Falcon 9 rocket, though this flight will only carry satellites to orbit. From the Florida coast, the company is scheduled to launch the latest batch of 60 internet-radiant satellites for its ever-growing Starlink constellation on Wednesday night.
As this mission gains momentum, SpaceX will have launched a little more than 480 of its Starlink satellites in orbit. Only a small fraction of the nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites are licensed to launch. The goal of the massive project is to provide global internet coverage from space. The satellites are designed to beam broadband connections down to earth below, with customers dropping the system via personal user terminals.
This sunscreen is SpaceX’s latest attempt to diminish the brightness of the satellites, which appear to be particularly bright in the sky during sunrise and sunset on Earth. On these occasions, the sunlight hits these objects when humans are shrouded in darkness on the earth below, causing them to shine in the sky. It is something that has caused great concern for those in the astronomical community, who are worried that the bright satellites may mess up their observations of the universe. Astronomers often rely on taking long exposure shots of the night sky, and a bright satellite passing through an image leaves a long white streak that can destroy a shot.
SpaceX has been in constant communication with astronomers on how to solve the problem, and the company even tried to cover one of its Starlink satellites with an experimental coating to make it darker. That coating did darker the satellite, although an analysis claimed it was not enough to destroy the astronomers’ fears. Now SpaceX is trying the sunscreen, and it has some other ideas as well. On its website, SpaceX notes that it will eventually try to target the satellites when they first launch to reduce the brightness while lifting their orbits. This change is still in effect, according to SpaceX, as it will require a software update.
At the moment, SpaceX is focusing on the sun protection method, although the other 59 satellites at this launch will not include the new hardware. Depending on how this experiment goes, it is possible that more will be launched with the shadow in the future.
The launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled at 21:25 ET from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This is the fifth mission that this particular rocket will take to space. SpaceX will also try to land Falcon 9 on one of its drone ships in the Atlantic after its launch, which means it can even fly for the sixth time. Two of SpaceX’s giant netboats will also try to capture the two halves of the rocket’s nose – the glowing structure that protects the satellites at the top of the rocket during the ascent to space.
The weather looks a bit iffy for launch, with only a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions. If SpaceX can’t get off today, the company has a backup start date at 9:03 am tomorrow. SpaceX’s live stream will start about 10 minutes before launch, so come back if you’re in the mood to see another Falcon 9 get to heaven.