SpaceX successfully launched another 52 Starlink internet broadband satellites into orbit on Saturday, less than one week after it sent up the last batch, TechCrunch reported.
A small satellite from startup Capella Space and a Tyvak observation satellite also hitched a ride on the launch, which took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday evening.
The launch used a veteran Falcon 9 booster that’s seen seven previous launches and landings, including during three Starlink missions. It departed from its launch pad at 6:56 PM ET (3:56 PM PT) and returned to Earth approximately nine minutes later. The rocket landed vertically on SpaceX’s autonomous drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean.
The launch company has now sent more than 530 Starlink satellites to space since March, and all of them on reused rockets. Reusability is a key factor toward making the launches as cost-effective as possible, a factor that is especially important as SpaceX is both the launch provider and customer of the Starlink service.
As a consequence, SpaceX has been able to rapidly accelerate its Starlink launch program, with 28 launches under its belt so far. At least one additional launch is likely in the works for later this month.
The company said earlier this month that it had received “over half a million” pre-order reservations for Starlink broadband service so far. Starlink is available in beta to customers in six countries: Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Mexico and Canada. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said the company aims to have its low Earth orbit broadband internet network operational across nearly the entire globe as early as the end of 2021.
SpaceX has started reaching out governments and regulators for approval to beam down Starlink services. Last week, there was a report that the satellite company has been in discussion with Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) virtually over the past several months to begin the process of pursuing all necessary licenses to bring Starlink services to Nigeria.
With the number of countries showing interest in Starlink internet increasing, SpaceX is shooting up more satellites to accommodate a potential boom.
With 500,000 preorders, Musk said he anticipates no technical problems meeting the demand. But he added that it could be “more of a challenge when we get into the several million user range.” He explained that the “only limitation is high density of users in urban areas.” To date, SpaceX has close to 10K users using its Starlink satellite service, which it started in February.
The preorders required a $99 deposit which does not guarantee the service, and the slots are limited in various geographic regions due to capacity limits. Despite limitations, SpaceX has been laying the groundwork to serve up to 5 million subscribers in the US eventually.
SpaceX plans to eventually deploy 12,000 satellites in total and has said the Starlink constellation will cost it roughly $10 billion.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last month approved the company’s plan to deploy some Starlink satellites at a lower earth orbit than planned.