SpaceX launches 1st of its broadband internet satellites

Huang Panyue

US private flight company SpaceX on Thursday launched its first two test satellites for its global broadband internet-in-space project.

A used Falcon 9 rocket blasted off at 6:17 am local time (1417 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 4E at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, carrying Spain's PAZ, a radar-imaging satellite, and two SpaceX test satellites for global broadband.

The Falcon 9's first stage separated from the second stage about two minutes after liftoff. Cheers and applause broke out in the SpaceX control room as the launch was streamed live online.

The launch's primary mission is to deliver PAZ into orbit for the Spain-based company Hisdesat. The satellite has been deployed approximately 11 minutes after launch.

"Successful deployment of PAZ satellite to low-Earth orbit confirmed," the California-based company tweeted.

According to the mission description, equipped with an advanced radar instrument, PAZ will cover the entire globe in 24 hours, serving both commercial and government needs.

Designed for a mission life of five and a half years, PAZ will orbit the Earth 15 times per day, providing an internet coverage for an area of over 300,000 square kilometers from an altitude of 514 kilometers and a velocity of seven kilometers per second.

PAZ was not riding alone on the recycled Falcon 9.

Quietly on board were two additional experimental broadband satellites, Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, a big first step in SpaceX's long-term plans to create satellite internet over the next decade.

Falcon 9's first stage for the PAZ mission previously supported the FORMOSAT-5 mission from SLC-4E in August 2017. SpaceX didn't attempt to recover Falcon 9's first stage after Thursday's launch.

In addition, there is another heightened interest in this launch. SpaceX was trying to "catch" one of the two payload fairings that enclosed the satellite at the top of the rocket.

These fairings were separated from the rocket about three minutes after launch. Currently, a typical Falcon 9 launch costs around 62 million US dollars. The value of these fairings is about 6 million dollars, recovering and reusing them would save costs.

SpaceX called off an attempted launch of its Falcon 9 rocket Wednesday morning due to strong high-altitude winds.

The launch, initially targeted for Feb. 17, was first delayed 24 hours due to final checks, and then subsequently to no earlier than Feb. 21 because of additional checks and mission-related requirements.


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