An artist's impression of the Galileo constellation in orbit

Starlink launches 60 more satellites but commercial service faces delays

Image credit: European Space Agency

SpaceX has indicated that its Starlink service, which will provide broadband internet using a constellation of satellites, needs more beta testing, possibly pushing back the planned 2020 commercial launch of the service.

The Elon Musk-owned firm launched its 16th Starlink mission from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station earlier this week.

Launched using a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, which is also owned by Musk, the mission deployed another 60 Starlink satellites bringing the total to over 800 that the company has in orbit.

But prior to the launch, SpaceX engineer Kate Tice said during a livestream: “At our current pace, we expect to expand our beta in a notable way very early next year, in the late January-February timeframe.”

Initial filings with the US’s Federal Communications Commission stated that the firm planned to offer commercial service by the end of 2020 before rapidly expanding “to near global coverage of the populated world in 2021”.

But with beta trials only just beginning in October, this timeframe looks to have been pushed back even though no official announcement has been made.

Beta customers have been initially offered a $499 setup kit with an additional $99 per-month charge for internet service.

The FCC has given Starlink permission to launch around 12,000 satellites into orbit which operate using V-band frequencies (radio frequencies of 40-75GHz), rather than the more standard K-band frequencies (radio frequencies of 12-40GHz).

The company’s plans have drawn the ire of astronomers who fear that the constellation will “fundamentally change” their field and have said the satellite shouldn't be launched at all.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact the project might have on the growing space junk problem.

Last year, an Earth-observation spacecraft operated by the European Space Agency (ESA) had to use its thrusters to dodge a Starlink satellite; although a clash would not have been inevitable, ESA concluded that the trajectories posed enough of a threat to make the manoeuvre necessary.

The UK has recently acquired bankrupt satellite firm OneWeb, which has similar plans to build a satellite constellation like Starlink.

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