ORLANDO, Fla., Nov. 12 (UPI) — SpaceX plans to launch its first batch of Starlink satellites from Florida since June early Saturday, all of which carry new laser communication links to beam information back and forth in space.
Elon Musk’s space company has scheduled liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket for 7:19 a.m. EST from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
SpaceX postponed the launch from Friday morning due to weather concerns. A forecast indicates only a 10% chance of storm clouds in the area for Saturday morning, according to the U.S. Space Force.
SpaceX began Starlink in May 2019, and now has some1,500 satellites in orbit to provide broadband Internet service to users on the ground. The company said this summer, it shipped about 100,000 ground terminals — small dishes to receive the signal — to subscribers.
The rocket company has sometimes launched two batches of about 60 satellites per month, but that pace slowed this year as it added the new laser links, said Tim Farrar, a telecommunications consultant based in California.
The lasers provide crosslinks between Starlink satellites, which allows faster transmission of data in space, he said.
“The crosslinks make the satellites bigger and heavier, apparently, because the most recent launch only had 51 satellites on board, less than usual,” Farrar said.
Starlink’s rollout has been rapid and well-received, but the telecommunications industry is waiting to see how reliable the system proves, he said.
“What we don’t know yet is long-term reliability, how long the dishes will last if they’re out in the rain, snow, wind for months or years,” Farrar said.
A major drawback for many Internet users is that Starlink dishes must have a clear view of the entire sky, meaning no trees or tall buildings nearby.
“I’ve got gigabit fiber, and a large tree near the house, so Starlink isn’t for me, at least not yet,” Farrar said. “That’s going to be a significant issue for further rollout of Starlink — what’s the point of having it if a significant portion of people have to chop down a bunch of trees to use it?”
SpaceX recently rolled out a new dish with a square shape and said it is more durable than the previous, rounded dish.
“Starlink is ideally suited for areas where connectivity has been unreliable or completely unavailable,” the company said.
SpaceX warns customers that they need a clear sky to use the product, and provides a simple smartphone app that will scan the sky and identify issues in advance. It charges $499 for the Starlink for startup and hardware, plus $99 per month.
“Your Starlink needs a clear view of the sky so it can stay connected with satellites as they move overhead. Objects that obstruct the connection between your Starlink and the satellite, such as a tree branch, pole, or roof, will cause service interruptions,” Starlink’s website warns.
The first-stage rocket booster for the launch previously launched four Starlink missions, along with four other missions that include the crewed Demo-2 mission in May 2020.
SpaceX plans to launch new, laser-linked Starlink satellites from Florida