Thursday morning, a Falcon 9 rocket from Elon Musk’s commercial space company sits at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California carrying a unique payload: SpaceX plans to launch low-orbiting satellites to beam high-speed internet to folks around the world as part of a program called “Starlink.” And despite a series of delays due to inclement weather, SpaceX’s latest mission is fitted, fueled, and ready to fly.
Other companies have discussed blanketing the Earth in Internet waves from satellites or low flying balloons, notably giants like Google and Facebook. Google’s Project Loon brought Internet access back to Puerto Rico last fall, for example. But if anyone can do complete a project as massive as this, it’s Musk, who silenced his naysayers forever (or at least for a few months) with the successful (and awe-inspiring) launch of the Falcon Heavy earlier this month. Now Starlink is ready to rock.
So what is it, exactly?
As CNET reported, the FCC actually granted SpaceX a license to launch the first Starlink satellites late in 2017. In SpaceX’s original application, the company noted its objectives, writing “in addition to proving out the development of the satellite bus and related subsystems, the test program for the Microsat-2a and -2b spacecraft will also validate the design of a phased array broadband antenna communications platform.”
SpaceX has been tight-lipped about the entire enterprise, and has not made an official comment regarding the imminent launch of its first two test satellites in the project. That said, Joy Dunn, the company’s senior manager of new product introduction, did take to Twitter to drop a hint (though it has since been deleted). It read, “Really looking forward to this one” with two satellite emojis, and linked to a SpaceX tweet about the successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 that is slated to go into space soon.
According to a letter posted to the FCC’s website in early February, Microsat-2a and -2b, the first satellites of what is eventually slated to be an entire fleet, would go into orbit in early February. But just hours before its scheduled 9:17 a.m. ET liftoff time, the crew at the Vandenberg launchpad required more time to run “final checkouts.” Launch was set for Wednesday, February 21 — but minutes before launch, poor conditions forced SpaceX to push the launch.
Whether SpaceX chooses to talk about Starlink now, we could soon be reaping its benefits should the promise of satellite-based Wi-Fi come to fruition. Until then, we’ll just have to patiently await the takeoff of the Falcon 9.
Update: The launch of the first satellites of project Starlink is set for to Thursday, February 22, at 6:17 a.m. PST