SpaceX successfully launched another Falcon 9 rocket today after delaying the launch due to strong winds. The rocket's mission was to deliver a Spanish radar imaging satellite into low Earth orbit.
The rocket was also carrying the first of SpaceX’s satellites that it plans to use to provide low-cost broadband internet service from low Earth orbit. SpaceX says they have a plan to deploy multitudes of the tiny satellites to achieve its aim of cheap connectivity.
Today’s Falcon launch carries 2 SpaceX test satellites for global broadband. If successful, Starlink constellation will serve least served.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 21, 2018
The project which is known as Starlink is being developed in SpaceX facilities in Redmond, Washington.
Successful deployment of PAZ satellite to low-Earth orbit confirmed. pic.twitter.com/xOEuyaFrcZ— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 22, 2018
Starlink to raise much needed SpaceX funds
Starlink is reported to be a way for Elon Musk to raise capital for his Mars colonization plan, however financial documents leaked to the Wall Street Journal last year revealed that the multi-billion dollar project is expected to be a key source of income for SpaceX generally. SpaceX has been unusually secretive about Starlink and has avoided talking about the project in the lead-up today's launch.
The two prototypes along with the Spanish radar satellite, Paz were launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Paz will follow the same orbit as Europe’s TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X radar satellites.
It will also have a similar mission to provide high-resolution radar coverage for both government and commercial use.
Starlink to compete in tight market
Once the Starlink prototype satellites are in orbit they will be tested by communicating with several different SpaceX stations across the U.S.
This initial deployment is just the first step for of Starlink testing, the network is expected to go live in 2020.
Starlink enters a hotly contested low earth orbit broadband market. Its competitors in the space include the OneWeb consortium, ad Telesat.
SpaceX recover nosecone for the first time
In addition to these two mission tasks, today's mission is important for another reason. SpaceX will attempt to recover the Falcon 9 fairings or nose cone that protects the payloads of the rocket as it ascends.
Usually, this part of the rocket is thrown away but if the fairings are able to be recovered Musk has estimated that the space company could save 6 million USD per launch.
A typical Falcon 9 launch costs around $62 Million USD. The nose cone was fitted with attitude-control thrusters and parachutes to assist with its descent.
SpaceX anticipated the fairings' descent and are standing by with a specially equipped ship, called Mr. Steven, with a net that’s designed to catch at least one of the falling cones. SpaceX revolutionized the reusable rocket. Typically the first-stage boosters of the Falcon 9 are recovered.
Going to try to catch the giant fairing (nosecone) of Falcon 9 as it falls back from space at about eight times the speed of sound. It has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship, named Mr. Steven, with basically a giant catcher’s mitt welded on, tries to catch it.
The booster used in today's launch has been used before during a launch mission in August. But this time the booster will not be recovered as SpaceX is upgrading the Falcon 9 first stage.
The old and outdated booster will not be recovered for further use but its descent will be used as a test to see what happens when it hits the Pacific. A three-engine rocket blast was used to slow it down before impact.