SpaceX Starlink Satellites Prepare for launch

SpaceX will launch dozens of demonstration broadband satellites next week as it ramps up testing for its planned Starlink service. The company says it will begin launching satellites for the actual service later this year.

This week, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell confirmed that dozens of Starlink satellites will be aboard the Falcon 9 launch scheduled for May 15, according to several news reports.

The Starlink constellation could number close to 12,000 satellites, according to filings with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. The company said in 2017 that it would need 800 satellites in orbit for commercial service — a target estimated for the 2020 to 2021 timeframe.

Shotwell said the demonstration satellites launching May 15 will be scaled down “test satellites” that lack intersatellite links. The test satellites will have very capable onboard antennas and electric propulsion, she said.

Shotwell said the launch, anticipated in early May, was pushed back to May 15 as a consequence of delays with an earlier cargo mission to the International Space Station for NASA. SpaceX launched a Dragon supply capsule on a Falcon 9 rocket to the ISS on May 4 after a power problem on the station and a subsequent electrical issue with SpaceX’s rocket retrieval droneship delayed the mission from May 1.