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According to Space News, SpaceX is preparing to offer StarLink satellite broadband internet in northern portions of the United States and Southern Canada before the end of the current calendar year.
StarLink is part of the aerospace company’s plan to fund its space program by providing internet service for every human on Earth. The latest StarLink mission launched the thirteenth fleet of 60 internet-beaming satellites into low Earth orbit. On October 6, a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. These satellites will rise into a higher operational orbit of approximately 550 kilometers in the weeks ahead.
StarLink satellites are equipped with Krypton powered ion thrusters to move in space. SpaceX engineers shared that this latest launch of satellites featured the ability to move quickly into their final orbits.
To date, SpaceX has launched a total of 775 StarLink satellites, including early prototypes. According to astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who has been following the constellation’s location closely, 47 StarLink satellites have been deorbited and reentered Earth’s atmosphere. McDowell published a document on his website that states: “SpaceX is retiring the V0.9 constellation of 60 prototype satellites launched in May 2019. As of October 7, 39 of the 60 satellites have reentered,” he wrote, “This is a new kind of reentry: it’s not a normal impulsive deorbit and not a normal orbital decay, but something in between” (Planet4589). Satellites generally deorbit when they are going to die of fuel. Engineers use its last bit of fuel to slow it down so it will fall out of orbit and burn-up in the atmosphere.
“The crucial point here is that the location of the breakup on the Earth is unpredictable and uncontrolled, in contrast to an impulsive deorbit where the rapid elliptical-orbit descents from a relatively high apogee mean that reentry location is determined relatively precisely by the orbital parameters,” McDowell explained (Planet4589). SpaceX designed StarLink satellites to have a shorter duration life-span to ensure they do not cause space junk around Earth. The company states, “At end of life, the satellites will utilize their onboard propulsion system to deorbit over the course of a few months. In the unlikely event the propulsion system becomes inoperable, the satellites will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere within 1-5 years, significantly less than the hundreds or thousands of years required at higher altitudes.” McDowell lastly added in his Space Report No. 784, “A total of 728 StarLink satellites remain in orbit.”
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