UPDATE (6:15 PM EST): SpaceX has updated their schedule to target Wednesday, January 29 at 9:06 AM EST for the launch in order to hopefully optimize for weather conditions in the area of the ocean where it hopes to recover its fairing halves.
UPDATE (9:20 AM EST): SpaceX has scrubbed its launch for today due to poor weather (high upper-level winds). It’ll reset for tomorrow’s backup window, weather permitting.
SpaceX is launching another group of 60 satellites for its Starlink broadband internet constellation, with a liftoff scheduled for 9:49 AM EST (6:49 AM PST) this morning. Should it be required, there’s a backup launch opportunity set for tomorrow, January 28 at 9:28 AM EST (6:28 AM PST), which it might need to use as weather isn’t looking great at the moment. Already, after SpaceX’s last launch of 60 Starlink satellites earlier in January, the company is now the largest private satellite operator in the world — this is the third batch of 60 “production” Starlink satellites, after an initial 60 launched early last year as a test, meaning SpaceX now has around 240 small satellites in low Earth orbit for its broadband consumer internet project.
Each Starlink satellite is roughly 600 lbs, but they’re essentially flat, allowing SpaceX to load and launch up to 60 per flight aboard one of their Falcon 9 rockets. The satellites each have on-board propulsion systems and are designed for a controlled de-orbit once they reach the end of their useful life, with SpaceX noting that they’re also designed to leave behind zero debris once they de-orbit and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX is intent on building out an extensive network of these satellites — eventually launching as many as 10,000 or more — with the goal of blanketing the Earth in affordable, reliable and easy to access broadband internet. Its goal is to offer service to customers in the U.S. and Canada by the end of this year through a series of planned launches of batches of 60 Starlink satellites scheduled through the remainder of 2020.
SpaceX has faced heavy criticism from the scientific community regarding the impact that Starlink will have on the ability to use high-powered telescopes from Earth for observation of space and the stars. SpaceX has said it’s doing its best to mitigate any potential impact, including testing dark-colored coatings for the sides of the Starlink satellites that face Earth, and sharing its schedule for orbital positions of Starlink to provide researchers with the best times to direct their equipment for an unobstructed view. So far, that doesn’t seem to have allayed everyone’s concerns.
Starlink’s network could connect regions and customers that previously had poor or non-existent internet connectivity, however, and for SpaceX, it’s an opportunity to build out another pillar of revenue in addition to launch services that could support founder Elon Musk’s long-term goals of reaching and colonizing Mars. Musk has said that his only reason for acquiring personal wealth is to fund this ambitious vision, and once operational and available to subscribers globally, Starlink could be a key element of that funding.
Today’s launch also includes a recovery attempt of both the Falcon 9 first stage (which has flown twice previously already) and the two fairing halves used to protect the cargo. The fairing recovery is a more recent and less proven part of SpaceX’s launch strategy, and involves catching the two large shells using ships at sea. There’s one boat for each half, named “Ms. Tree” and “Ms. Chief,” respectively. SpaceX has been attempting recoveries for a few launches now, and has succeeded in catching one half of the fairing only once previously. If it can manage to recoup these reliably, it could save up to $6 million per launch — and Musk recently revealed this could eventually lead to a similar recovery system for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule with astronauts on board.
The webcast above should start around 15 minutes prior to the planned liftoff time, so at around 9:34 AM EST (6:34 AM PST).