The first of SpaceX's functional Starlink satellites have been launched into space, with the company successfully putting the first pieces in place for what it hopes will be a vast network blanketing the entire globe in high-speed broadband internet.

Details of SpaceX's Starlink project first emerged in 2015, when the company shared its plans to install a web made up of thousands of small communication satellites. Located in closer proximity to sea level than typical satellites and numbering around 12,000 in total, this new network is hoped to greatly improve upon the speeds offered by current communication satellites.

Last February, SpaceX tested the waters by launching a pair of prototype satellites into orbit, and it has now followed up with the real thing. On Thursday it managed to pack a total of 60 Starlink satellites into the nosecone of one of its Falcon 9 rockets, which had actually flown on two earlier missions already, and fire them into orbit where they were then successfully deployed.

As is becoming routine for the company, it successfully brought the Falcon 9 booster back down to Earth to be recycled and used again (onto its barge in the ocean, more specifically). The satellites meanwhile, rely on just one solar array for power instead of a typical two, a feature the company says minimizes "potential points of failure."

With the first 60 Starlink satellites in place, SpaceX is now turning its attention to the next bundle. CEO Elon Musk said last week that a minimum of six more launches – of 60 satellites apiece – are needed for minor coverage, and 12 more for moderate coverage. Following Thursday's launch, SpaceX says it has six others planned for this year, while it will ramp things up and launch a total of 720 satellites across 2020. This, it says, will be enough "for continuous coverage of most populated areas on Earth."

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