Space

SpaceX places 60 satellites in orbit with first ever recycled fairing

SpaceX places 60 satellites in...
SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster lifts off, the fourth flight of this particular rocket
SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster lifts off, the fourth flight of this particular rocket
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SpaceX's latest Starlink mission lifts off
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SpaceX's latest Starlink mission lifts off
SpaceX's latest Starlink mission placed 60 new satellites in orbit
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SpaceX's latest Starlink mission placed 60 new satellites in orbit
SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster lifts off, the fourth flight of this particular rocket
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SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster lifts off, the fourth flight of this particular rocket

Central to SpaceX's mission of making rocket launches as cheap as possible is recovering and recycling as many components as possible, and it today took another significant step toward this aim. Using a Falcon 9 booster launched three times before, topped by a fairing that it captured and then refurbished earlier in the year, the company today launched 60 of its Starlink satellites into orbit, furthering its plans to create cheap worldwide internet at the same time.

Remarkably, in the space of just a few years, SpaceX's rocket landings have become almost routine, using thrusters to slow down the descent and land on an ocean platform or landing pad with pinpoint accuracy. But a less sophisticated part of its strategy involves using a giant net mounted to a ship to catch the fairings that protect space-bound payloads before falling back to Earth.

It may seem small compared to the rocket body itself, but these fairings cost SpaceX around US$6 million a pop, CEO Elon Musk has said previously. An ability to reuse them could take another chunk out of the launch costs of the company's rockets, which stand at around $62 million per flight for the Falcon 9, and $90 million for the Falcon Heavy.

In June as part of the company's landmark Falcon Heavy launch, SpaceX managed to recover half of the payload fairing as it dropped back to Earth. It did so using its vessel named Ms Tree, which caught the fairing half after parafoils slow down its descent toward the ocean.

SpaceX's net-equipped boat Ms Tree has managed to catch a piece of nosecone
SpaceX's net-equipped boat Ms Tree has managed to catch a piece of nosecone

This fairing has now received a second life as part of today's Starlink mission, helping protect a further 60 of the company's internet satellites en-route to orbit. This payload was lifted into space aboard a recycled Falcon 9 rocket, which has now flown and safely landed for a record fourth time.

SpaceX has high hopes for its Starlink satellites, which it hopes to use to create a vast network to blanket the globe in high-speed broadband internet. This batch followed another set of 60 launched in May, with Musk previously stating that around 800 would be needed for "continuous coverage of the most populated areas on Earth."

SpaceX's latest Starlink mission placed 60 new satellites in orbit
SpaceX's latest Starlink mission placed 60 new satellites in orbit

But the company ultimately plans to put thousands of Starlink satellites into orbit, and not everyone is overly enthused with the idea. The project has drawn criticism from astronomers and scientists, notably from the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which is concerned that the brightness of these satellites and others like it will impede scientific observations.

"The organisation, in general, embraces the principle of a dark and radio-quiet sky as not only essential to advancing our understanding of the Universe of which we are a part, but also as a resource for all humanity and for the protection of nocturnal wildlife," the IAU said in a June statement. "We do not yet understand the impact of thousands of these visible satellites scattered across the night sky and despite their good intentions, these satellite constellations may threaten both."

In response to such reservations about the Starlink project, Musk has pointed to the thousands of satellites already in orbit and said "that we’ll make sure Starlink has no material effect on discoveries in astronomy. We care a great deal about science."

Source: SpaceX (Twitter)

2 comments
piperTom
Astronomers want a "dark and radio-quiet sky"? Well, *I* want noisy airplanes to quit flying over my home! But all of humanity wants to use the air space to travel and they want to use low Earth orbit for communication. Do I and the astronomers get to block use of a huge resource for our own narrow interests?
Douglas E Knapp
All these satellites could have a small camera or 20 stuck to them and that data beamed to Earth with the links. being .7 x .7 mm I think the weight would be ok. I think having 48,000 cameras or more might make the scientists happy! To quote This publication; "The OV6948 measures a mere 0.575 x 0.575 x 0.232 mm (0.022 x 0.022 x 0.009 in) and has been installed in a complete camera module measuring 0.65 x 0.65 mm, which can be used in a 1-mm-diameter catheter or endoscope for 200 x 200 back-illuminated color images. The chip also features 120-degree field of view, 3 to 30 mm focus range and the ability to capture video at up 30 frames per second. As well as having potential use in neuro, cardiac, spinal and arthroscopy procedures, the technology could also find use in dental, veterinarian and industrial applications."