Hawthorne-based SpaceX Thursday launched a trio of satellites aboard a rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, including two that are part of a demonstration project for a proposed space-based internet system. In the coming years, SpaceX may launch 4,425 Starlink satellites into orbit some 700 to 800 miles above Earth, plus another 7,500 similar spacecraft into lower orbits.
More than 10,000 small-sized internet satellites are due to be put into low earth orbit by SpaceX in the future.
The failure to catch was mostly on the ship's end, as this was the first time a catcher's mitt-carrying boat was sent out during one of SpaceX's launches, and they clearly didn't use a big enough mitt. These experimental cubesats, if they perform as expected, will lead to the launch of SpaceX's Starlink constellation, which will provide broadband internet to even the most remote regions of the planet.
Ultimately, the company intends to launch around 12,000 of these broadband satellites, and the recent payload is the first step into turning this vision into reality. Usually, it splits in half once the payload is past the most risky part of its journey is over, and the two pieces fall to Earth abandoned.
This will be a low key event, compared to the launch of the company's Falcon Heavy on February 6. While SpaceX already reuses other rocket components, such as boosters, from mission to mission, it hasn't yet tried to recapture the fairing-until now.
Named Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, the two satellites launched Thursday by SpaceX on one of its Falcon 9 rockets are prototypes.
As for Mr. Steven, the drone ship came close, but ended up missing the parachuting fairings by "a few hundred meters" which is really pretty impressive for a first attempt. The fairing protects the payload when the rocket is blasting up through the skies but is useless once the spaceship has passed out of the atmosphere and is jettisoned. "My guess is next six months we've got fairing recovery figured out", he said during the Falcon Heavy launch press conference. "Should be able to catch it with slightly bigger chutes to slow down descent", Musk tweeted.