SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk shared an image of a stack of 60 Starlink satellites packed into a Falcon 9 fairing on Twitter yesterday. The satellites will be launched from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 at 02:30 UTC on May 16.
Speaking at the Satellite 2019 conference earlier this month, SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell revealed that the company planned to launch “dozens of satellites” on May 15. However, the exact number of the company’s Starlink satellites that would be aboard the Falcon 9 rocket had been a mystery. Late last night, Elon Musk tweeted an image of a packed Falcon 9 fairing stating, “First 60 @SpaceX Starlink satellites loaded into Falcon Fairing. Tight fit.”
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 12, 2019
Although Thursday’s launch will be a significant first step towards the Starlink constellation, several more missions will be required to create a functioning network. In a follow-up tweet, Musk revealed that a minimum of six 60-satellite launches would be required for “minor coverage” and twelve for “moderate coverage”.
According to Shotwell, the 60 satellites set to be launched are still prototypes. The company hopes to glean valuable information from the launch of this batch of satellites, information that will be used to plan future missions. She explained that if all goes well, SpaceX would look to launch an additional seven 60-satellite missions this year.
Currently, the weather is 70% favourable for a May 16 launch and 80% favourable for the mission’s backup window. A static fire test of the Falcon 9 is expected either later today or tomorrow.