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SpaceX To Launch Test Internet Satellites Aboard Falcon 9 Rocket

SpaceX ‘starman’ flies by earth in Tesla roadster
Elon Musk’s SpaceX company is launching two test internet satellites aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday, Feb. 17. What makes these satellites different from those currently at geostationary orbit?  ( Jim Watson | AFP/Getty Images )

About three years ago, SpaceX announced about launching more than 4,000 satellites into orbit that could eventually provide global internet access. It appears that the spaceflight company is already on its way to making this plan a reality, right after the successful launch of the Falcon heavy rocket. 

Starlink

SpaceX is reported to have filed documents to trademark the name “Starlink” for its satellite network that would provide broadband access worldwide.

Internet satellites that currently exist fly more than 20,000 miles above Earth. SpaceX wants to place their satellites much closer to the planet at around 750 miles above the surface, which means that the connection speeds will be faster and the bandwidth will be higher.

“Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said.

The downside to placing satellites closer to Earth, however, is it requires more of them. While a handful of internet satellites at geostationary orbit is enough to reach the whole world, SpaceX would need several thousands of these satellites. Musk has said that it will cost about $10 billion to get this internet service off the ground.

Test Satellites

On Saturday, Feb. 17, Elon Musk’s company will launch two test internet satellites. Dubbed Microsat 2a and 2b, into orbit, these satellites will test connections with ground stations in Texas, California, and Washington. Receivers are also in mobile vans at different parts of the country.

If the tests go well, SpaceX could start launching the first of its internet satellites later this year, which could translate to a functional albeit still limited network in place by the year 2020. The initial network will include about 800 satellites that can cover the United States, which can then expand to provide coverage for the rest of the world.

Secondary Payloads

The prototypes are reported to be included as secondary payloads on the Falcon 9 rocket, which will launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The primary payload of the mission is a 3,000-pound Spanish radar observation satellite called Paz.

“A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the PAZ satellite for Hisdesat of Madrid, Spain. PAZ carries a radar imaging payload to collect views of Earth for government and commercial customers, along with ship tracking and weather sensors. Multiple smaller secondary payloads will also launch on the Falcon 9 rocket,” reads the statement from the Vandenberg Air Force Base.

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