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SpaceX aims to please astronomers with its latest Starlink satellite launch

SpaceX achieved another successful Starlink launch early Friday morning when a Falcon 9 rocket roared skyward from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:12 a.m. ET.

The rocket’s payload included 57 Starlink satellites for its ambitious broadband-from-space project, and two Earth-observing  satellites for Seattle-based BlackSky, a geospace intelligence company.

Minutes after launch, the first-stage booster returned to Earth to make a perfect landing on a drone ship stationed off the coast of Florida.

And then came confirmation that the Starlink satellites had been successfully deployed.

Deployment of 57 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/myKxr3QSTu

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 7, 2020

This is the 10th launch for the Starlink project since the first one in May 2019, and brings the total number of its satellites in low-Earth orbit to 595 — with more on the way.

The astronomy community is particularly interested in the latest launch, as all of the Starlink satellites in this batch have been fitted with a new visor aimed at reducing the brightness of the sun’s reflection. Professional stargazers have been complaining that with more Starlink satellites heading skyward over the coming months and possibly years, the reflections will almost certainly disrupt their observations of the night sky, making it harder for them to do their work.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has been listening, promising that his team was working to find a solution. In the coming days, we should learn whether the visors are effective enough to assuage astronomers’ concerns.

The $10 billion Starlink project is aimed at creating a system capable of beaming affordable broadband to locations globally where internet connectivity is currently unreliable, too pricey, or non-existent. Musk has said previously that customers will connect to the Starlink service using a device that looks like a “thin, flat, round UFO on a stick.” Trial services are expected to begin anytime now.

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Trevor Mogg
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