First wave of SpaceX's Starlink satellites liftoff in successful launch on 24 May

Starlink will be operational once 800 satellites have been activated, which is still a dozen or so launches away.

SpaceX launched a rocket packed to the brim with satellites part of its Starlink internet constellation, which could grow to a network of as many as 12,000 satellites in the future. To the delight of space enthusiasts everywhere, SpaceX successfully deployed all 60 satellites on Friday morning (IST) without hitch or glitch after two previous attempts to launch were called off within 30 minutes of liftoff due to bad winds and a necessary software upgrade on the satellites, which set it back by a week.

But the third time was a charm for SpaceX to get the Starlink satellites airborne, as the Falcon 9 took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida around 10.30 pm EDT (8 am IST) on 24 May without incident.

The Falcon 9's booster rocket was a thrice-flown first stage that returned and made a gentle touchdown on the Of Course I Still Love You! droneship at sea. This was the second time SpaceX has flown the first stage more than twice.

The second stage went on to release the Starlink satellites an hour after launch at an altitude of 440 kilometers. SpaceX said that the satellites will use their thrusters to take up their places in a relatively low orbit of 550 kilometers. That's only slightly higher than the International Space Station, but well below most of the satellites orbiting Earth, the highest of which sit at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers in the geostationary orbit.

First wave of SpaceXs Starlink satellites liftoff in successful launch on 24 May

A prototype Starlink satellite. The first two prototype Starlink satellites were launched by SpaceX in February 2018. Image: SpaceX

The launch was originally scheduled for 16 May (IST), but was postponed by 24 hours the first time due to high winds, and then again by a week to "double check everything" and give the satellites a software update.

The launch has now made SpaceX an early entrant in the space internet race, alongside rivals OneWeb, Amazon's Project Kuiper among several others.

The Starlink network is expected to become operational once 800 satellites have been activated. That still appears to be a dozen or so launches away for now.

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