SpaceX successfully launched two demonstration satellites on Thursday, which will eventually go on to build a network of thousands of satellites called Starlink that would be providing broadband internet access.
Dubbed Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, the two demonstration satellites were the Falcon 9 satellite's secondary payload. The rocket was deployed from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The launch's primary mission was to transport a radar imaging satellite into low-Earth orbit for a company from Spain, which was launched around 11 minutes after liftoff.
The aerospace manufacturing giant launched the demo satellites with the intention to test the structure, design, and subsystems of the spacecraft. SpaceX also wants to test the communication path of the satellites with the help of three mobile test vans and five stationary test stations based on the ground.
The test stations will be based in Fremont and Hawthorne in California and Brownsville and McGregor in Texas as well as Redmond, where the company has a satellite development office.
The massive network of satellites, dubbed Constellation, will comprise of nearly 12,000 satellites. They will relay internet connectivity to ground-based antennae receivers from low-Earth orbit. 4,425 of the satellites will be located approximately 700 miles up, and another 7,518 satellites will be present at 200 miles up. Operating on different radio frequencies, the geostationary satellite network will continuously orbit the planet, providing internet signal to nearly any spot on Earth.
Elon Musk Tweets
The deployment of the demo satellites was not shown on the webcast of the launch by SpaceX. However, an hour and a half after launch, the tech billionaire tweeted that they were deployed and were in communication with Earth-based ground stations.
"First two Starlink demo satellites, called Tintin A & B, deployed and communicating to Earth stations," Musk tweeted. "Tintin A & B will attempt to beam “hello world” in about 22 hours when they pass near LA."
Musk refers to Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b as Tintin A and B, in what seems to be a reference to the young reporter Tintin in the famous comics by Hergé.
Representatives from SpaceX have stated that they hope to have Starlink functioning by 2020 in at least a limited capacity. The two demo satellites will collect the necessary data to help meet the goals of Starlink. However, a lot remains to be done, the representatives added.
"This system, if successful, would provide people in low to moderate population densities around the world with affordable high-speed internet access, including many who have never had internet access before," said SpaceX firmware engineer Tom Praderio during live commentary during the launch.