Musk says Starlink "economically viable" with around 1,000 satellites

Elon Musk Shows Off 60 Starlink Satellites Stacked Inside A Falcon Rocket

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - Elon Musk's SpaceX was due to launch 60 small satellites into low-Earth orbit on Wednesday, part of his rocket company's plan to sell Internet service beamed from space to fund his grander interplanetary ambitions.

Future plans are for almost 12,000 satellites to go into low-Earth orbit, which will provide downlink data from space to internet users.

SpaceX shared details about its largely secretive Starlink constellation program March 15, providing updated targets for commercial service, details about satellite design and the thought process behind why the company's upper target is 12,000 satellites - about six times the number functioning in orbit for the rest of the world combined.

The slated launch will be the first major test deployment of SpaceX's Starlink satellites in the lower Earth orbit.

It then postponed the launch by 24 hours.

Musk, in a call with reporters, said SpaceX views 1,000 satellites as the point when Starlink becomes economically solid.

When asked about SpaceX's launches, Dr Stijn Lemmens told Scientific American: "The worst case is: You launch all your satellites, you go bankrupt, and they all stay there".

SpaceX made that call just seconds before beginning its launch livestream at 10:45 p.m. EDT (0245 GMT).

Keeping up with his famous routine, he has tweeted a picture of Starlink satellites being packed into a Falcon rocket. Last month, CNBC reported that Badyal is now leading Amazon's Project Kuiper, which plans to put more than 3,000 satellites in low Earth orbit.

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SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said May 7 that the company plans three to seven Starlink launches this year.

Musk said he was well aware of that history. By that time, we could expect other competitors to have jumped into this bandwagon.

And that's only SpaceX - OneWeb and Amazon will add thousands more.

SpaceX launched two prototype Starlink satellites in February 2018.

Musk said his company has a similar goal to connect the disconnected. While Wednesday's satellites will be nearly fully functional, Shotwell said the launch is really meant to test out how the large bank of satellites can be safely deployed into orbit - that is, without colliding with each other or winding up at the wrong altitude.

Musk said Starlink's newest 60 satellites carry phased array antennas and ion propulsion units that run on krypton instead of the typical xenon gas.

Nicholas Johnson, the chief scientist for Orbital Debris, said: "Any of these debris has the potential for seriously disrupting or terminating the mission of operational spacecraft in low Earth orbit".

A successful launch Wednesday would "surely put SpaceX in the lead", said Shagun Sachdeva, an analyst at Northern Sky Research. But they're close enough to help SpaceX test several key technologies required to make Starlink work.

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