Elon Musk says SpaceX will broadcast 'kind of weird' video of Starlink's first 60 satellites as they shuffle into orbit tonight

Elon Musk says SpaceX will broadcast 'kind of weird' video of Starlink's first 60 satellites as they shuffle into orbit tonight

elon musk spacex crew dragon demo 1 nasa commercial spaceship mission march 2 2019 dave mosher business insider DCM_1036

Dave Mosher/Insider

SpaceX founder Elon Musk makes a face during a press briefing on March 2, 2019.

SpaceX is about to broadcast live video of a scene in space so strange that Elon Musk struggled to describe it.

The rocket company plans to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, tonight between 10:30 p.m. and midnight ET, and broadcast the event live.

Stacked inside the top of the rocket will be 60 next-generation satellites - the first of a global internet network called Starlink, which in its final form may boast 12,000 such satellites. That's nearly seven times the number of operational satellites that currently orbit Earth today.

Each Starlink satellite is roughly the size of an office desk and weighs about 500 lbs (227 kilograms). In total, the satellites and the key parts of the upper-stage rocket they'll ride into orbit together weigh more than 18 tons.


"This is the heaviest payload Falcon 9 has ever launched," Musk said during a call with reporters on Wednesday night. In fact, it's the heaviest payload SpaceX has ever tried to launch, including with its behemoth Falcon Heavy rocket.

Deploying five dozen spacecraft into orbit at once is no trivial task, and SpaceX plans to show off the process during a live webcast on YouTube, which we've embedded below.

'This will look kind of weird'

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Elon Musk/SpaceX via Twitter

SpaceX stuffed a fleet of 60 Starlink internet-providing satellites into the nosecone of a Falcon 9 rocket for launch in May 2019.

SpaceX has a lot of experience launching many satellites at once. In December, for example, it put 64 satellites into space.

But that mission used heavy spring-loaded mechanisms to pop out each satellite, and most of the spacecraft were far smaller and lighter than Starlink satellites. (SpaceX also used a subcontractor to build the satellite-deploying stack for the mission.)

To keep the weight and complexity of Thursday's in-house mission to a minimum, Musk said SpaceX engineers are trying something unusual.


"It's going to be a very slow deployment, where we rotate the [upper] stage," Musk said.

The precise arrangement of the Starlink satellites will give each its own unique inertia as the rocket rotates, Musk said. This will cause the spacecraft to float out of and away from their slots in the stack at different times and speeds.

"It will seem like spreading a deck of cards on a table," Musk said. "This will look kind of weird compared to normal satellite deployments."

He added that the satellites may touch or bump into each other during deployment, "but it will be very, very slow, and the satellites are designed to handle it."

Musk said each Starlink will then boot up and begin firing its Hall thruster, or ion engine. The engines will shoot out krypton gas ions to slowly yet efficiently fly from from 273 miles (440 kilometers) above Earth to 342 miles (550 kilometers) high.


From there, SpaceX plans to test its Starlink internet concept by talking to the Starlink spacecraft from ground stations and routing data from one satellite to another.

What's in store for Starlink

In the future, each Starlink satellite will link to four others via laser beams, allowing the Starlink network to move internet traffic at close to the speed of light in a vacuum. That speed is nearly 50% faster than fiber-optic cables can transmit data on the ground, which means Starlink could have a tremendous speed advantage.

spacex starlink satellite internet global network simulation model illustration courtesy mark handley university college london ucl youtube 002

Mark Handley/University College London

An illustration of Starlink, a fleet or constellation of internet-providing satellites that may one day surround the world.

Musk said SpaceX has "sufficient capital" to get Starlink operational, and also suggested that SpaceX can start making money off of Starlink before it finishes launching all 12,000 planned satellites by 2027 (the deadline that FCC licenses require).

"For the system to be economically viable, it's really on the order of 1,000 satellites," Musk said. "Which is obviously a lot of satellites, but it's way less than 10,000 or 12,000."


Mark Handley, a computer-networking researcher at University College London who has studied Starlink, previously told Business Insider that the project could affect the lives of "potentially everybody" by bringing high-speed and pervasive broadband to most parts of the world.

"This is the most exciting new network we've seen in a long time," Handley said.

Watch the first Starlink mission live

Musk said SpaceX will begin deploying the 60 Starlink satellites about an hour after the launch tonight.

You can tune into SpaceX's live broadcast below starting around 15 minutes before lift-off, which is currently scheduled for sometime between 10:30 p.m. ET and midnight.