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New SpaceX launch: Starlink closes in on 800 internet-beaming satellite target for US service

SpaceX launches 60 Starlink satellites after asking the US for permission to launch 30,000 second-generation units.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Elon Musk's SpaceX has launched another 60 internet-beaming satellites, bringing the company's constellation to around 480. 

The latest batch of Starlink satellites marks the eighth launch so far and follows this week's SpaceX launch of two US astronauts to the International Space Station. 

The Falcon 9 rocket, which lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Wednesday, was the first to carry a satellite with a deployable sun visor. The visors are designed to address astronomers' concerns over solar light reflecting from the spacecraft and impeding space observation from Earth.

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The latest launch puts SpaceX closer to the 800-satellite target it needs for moderate coverage of the US. Following SpaceX's April launch, CEO Elon Musk said it should be ready to launch a public beta as early as August.  

SpaceX in March gained approval from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deploy a million user terminals, which look like a "little UFO on a stick", according to Musk, and will be simple for consumers to set up.

The FCC has approved SpaceX to launch more than 12,000 Starlink satellites to provide high-speed, low-latency internet access. 

Consistent with previously announced plans, SpaceX last week applied to the FCC to launch 30,000 Gen2 System satellites, with more than 85% operating at below 400km (249 miles), "using eight total orbital altitudes ranging from 328km to 614km [204 to 382 miles]". 

SpaceX said its next-generation constellation will allow it to bring internet services to rural areas at prices previously only available to urban customers. 

While Musk has said the satellites will have a latency of 20 milliseconds, SpaceX's application says it will have latency of below 50 milliseconds, which it says is "nearly unnoticeable to consumers". The company reiterated Musk's claim that the user terminal will be easy to install, requiring them to simply "point it at the sky and plug it in".   

The gateway earth stations will use parabolic dishes, which it plans to install at "several hundred" locations within the US. They will be "co-located with or sited near major internet peering points to provide the required internet connectivity to the satellite constellation".

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As reported by Ars Technica, SpaceX satellite broadband rival OneWeb also applied to the FCC to launch just under 48,000 satellites. The move is notable given it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March and cut most of its staff after failing to secure funding from its main backer, Softbank.  

"OneWeb has already secured debtor-in-possession financing and expects to soon exit the Chapter 11 process in a manner that maximizes the value of OneWeb's strategic assets and also ensures a viable path forward for its stakeholders and customers," OneWeb said. 

More on Elon Musk's SpaceX and internet-beaming satellites

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  • New SpaceX launch: Starlink now has 360 internet-beaming satellites, as US service nears  
  • Coronavirus: SpaceX internet-beaming rival OneWeb files for bankruptcy over COVID-19  
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