SpaceX launched yet another batch of Starlink internet satellites, despite a recent warning from NASA that the satellites might impede the scientific community's ability to detect a catastrophic asteroid heading towards Earth.
SpaceX launched 48 Starlink satellites on Wednesday, March 9, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket that took off from Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 08:45 EST (15:45 GMT).
The rocket's first stage successfully returned to Earth for landing on SpaceX droneship 'A Shortfall of Gravitas'.
Last month, NASA submitted a five-page letter to the Federal Communications Commission detailing why it was against SpaceX's plans to send more than 30,000 Starlink satellites into orbit. In the letter, the NASA scientists said "an increase of this magnitude... brings additional risk of debris-generating collision events based on the number of objects alone." The U.S. space agency also warned that the satellites will also negatively impact "our planet's ability to detect and possibly redirect a potentially catastrophic impact."
SpaceX's "American broomstick" launches once more
Despite NASA's concerns, SpaceX seems to be going full speed ahead with its Starlink plans, which have just gained increased international public backing due to its role in helping civilians on the ground in Ukraine. SpaceX recently redirected a portion of its Starlink fleet to give access to Ukrainians without communication infrastructure because of the Russian invasion. Elon Musk did warn, however, that users might be targeted for using Starlink services.
Moments before SpaceX's latest Starlink launch, SpaceX launch director Julia Black said it's "time to let the American broomstick fly and hear the sounds of freedom." Black's comment was a direct reference to Russian space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin's statement last week about U.S. space missions, saying "let them fly on something else, their broomsticks." Rogozin's comment came shortly after Russia halted sales of its rocket engines to U.S. launch providers in response to economic sanctions levied against Russia due to the Ukraine invasion.
"Another 48 Starlinks just reached orbit," Elon Musk wrote on Twitter shortly after launch. The SpaceX CEO also referred to the Falcon 9 used for the launch as an "American broomstick" prior to liftoff. The particular Falcon 9 used for the latest Starlink mission, called Starlink 4-10, marked its fourth flight and landing on Wednesday.
SpaceX has so far sent more than 2,000 Starlink satellites into orbit since its first Starlink launch in 2019 and it has permission to launch 12,000 more. It is also currently waiting on approval to send approximately 30,000 more. SpaceX has developed "VisorSats," which dim the sunlight reflected off the satellites, though astronomers have warned that this is not enough to stop the satellite constellation from interfering with space observations.