On Thursday, May 23rd, SpaceX launched the first 60 satellites of their internet constellation using a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket. These satellites are positioned in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and are low enough to still be affected by Earth's atmosphere to passively deorbit quickly if there's an issue where a satellite becomes inoperable. After launch, the first stage separated and was recovered far out in the Atlantic Ocean after launching SpaceX's heaviest payload to date. Also recovered on this mission were both halves of the payload fairing after they separated from the F9 where they were no longer needed.
All 60 satellites weighed about 13,620kg (30,026lbs) total, 227kg (500lbs) each. They are designed as a "flat panel" allowing them to be compactly stacked inside the Falcon 9's fairing. Every satellite has multiple antennae, a single solar array, and Krypton powered engines - the first of its kind to be used in space. They also have on-board startracking devices to help with in-space guidence, which is the same techology and hardware used on their Dragon spacecraft to maneuver to the ISS. 95% of all components on these satellites will burn up safely in the atmosphere with little to no debris leftover. They also use on-board sensors to autonomously avoid orbital debris so collisions wont destroy the satellite and others.
Photo: Richard Angle
This launch marked a large milestone in SpaceX's goal to provide internet access to places on the world where it is unvailable or not reliable. Not only will this be a reliable and worldwide service, it will also be very affordable when it becomes available to consumers. They have to launch about 360 more satellites to make this constellation useful.