As SpaceX prepares to launch the first 60 satellites of the company’s Starlink telecommunications constellation, Elon Musk has revealed that it will be the heaviest payload ever launched aboard a Falcon vehicle.
Early this morning, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk Tweeted that the combined total payload weight of 60 Starlink satellites set to be launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket is 18.5 tons. According to Musk, it’s the heaviest payload ever launched by the company on either its Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy vehicles.
Each of the 60 Statlink satellites weighs 227 kilograms. The satellites are equipped with multiple high-throughput antennas, a single solar array, and Hall thrusters powered by krypton. Once in orbit, the first 60 satellites will generate more power than the International Space Station and will be capable of delivering 1 terabit of bandwidth to Earth. However, Musk has revealed that an additional 5 launches of 60 satellites will be needed for the network’s initial activation and an additional 6 after that for “significant coverage”.
In addition to tomorrow’s launch being the heaviest SpaceX has every launched, the mission will also utilise a novel method to deploy the satellites. Unlike most other missions that use some or another kind of mechanical means to deploy a payload, SpaceX plans to use nothing but inertia to deploy each of the 60 Starlink satellites. To do this, the rocket’s upper stage will be spun and the satellites then released. Musk likened the process to “spreading a deck of cards.”
The first 60 satellites of the Starlink constellation are set to be launched at 02:30 UTC tomorrow from Cape Canaveral. The launch had initially been scheduled for this morning but it was scrubbed due to “excess upper-level winds”.