The company launched its workhouse Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 2.35am BST. The rocket was carrying 60 of the satellites – which will eventually form an Earth-circling array of thousands with the aim of beaming internet to Earth.
The next chance to spot Starlink satellites will be at 4.04am this morning, when Starlink-5 will pass overhead from Southwest to East for about 6 minutes at an elevation of 10 degrees from the horizon to start with, according to FindStarlink.
The new Starlink 8 satellites will be visible Friday June 5 at 1:16 am for just two minutes. They’ll be coming from Northwest to East at an elevation of about 37 degrees above the horizon to start with.
Recent weeks have seen a flurry of activity from SpaceX – a private US rocket firm headed by billionaire Elon Musk.
This morning’s launch came less than a week after SpaceX sent astronauts into space for the first time in the company’s history.
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken manned SpaceX’s new Dragon crew capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket that successfully delivered the two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station last Saturday.
But as well as conducting crewed launches, SpaceX is planning to establish a constellation of thousands of satellites in orbit around the Earth as part of its Starlink programme.
It’s already been granted permission to launch 12,000 of them, though it has some way to go before it reaches that particular milestone.
Following today’s launch, SpaceX will have already put just over 480 of the Starlink satellites into space, The Verge reports.
But although today’s launch was relatively routine, there was one special aspect about it.
One of the satellites was equipped with a special visor that it will deploy while it’s in orbit around the Earth.
This is designed to prevent the satellite from reflecting light off of the sun and shining it back down onto the Earth.
The idea is to make the satellites dimmer when seen from Earth. This might be a downer for those who enjoy watching the many tiny dots etch a line across the sky each night, but there’s an important reason why SpaceX have made this move.
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It’s to address concerns by astronomers, some of whom use optical telescopes which rely on clear skies at night to observe the Universe from Earth.
While the satellites don’t currently cause too much obstruction, it is easy to imagine how several thousand of them might.
On its website, SpaceX says it has been involved in discussions with astronomers around the world to address this.
After this morning’s test satellite went up with the visor equipped, SpaceX has said that all future Starlink satellites will have a similar modification from the ninth launch in June onwards.
In addition to the visor modifications, SpaceX has said it is planning a software update which will re-orient the satellites as they approach orbit.
As the company describes it, this should put the satellites at a “knife-edge to the sun”.
This should reduce the light that they reflect back to Earth even more.
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