SpaceX launches eighth Starlink mission, first VisorSat satellite

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WASHINGTON — SpaceX launched a batch of 60 Starlink broadband satellites June 3, including one with a deployable sunshield meant to test out a new way to reduce the brightness of future satellites. 

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 9:25 p.m. Eastern from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and deployed the satellites into low Earth orbit 15 minutes later. 

The rocket’s first stage landed on SpaceX’s drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” about nine minutes after lift off. The launch marked the fifth use of that booster, which previously flew one mission to geostationary transfer orbit and three missions to low Earth orbit, the latest being in January, also for Starlink. The launch was also the first time SpaceX successfully recovered a first-stage booster after five flights. 

SpaceX has launched 482 Starlink satellites, counting Wednesday’s launch and two prototypes launched in 2018. The company had planned its latest Starlink mission for May, but was delayed by Tropical Storm Arthur until after the company’s Demo-2 Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station, which took place May 30

May was the first month this year SpaceX did not conduct a Starlink launch. The company had averaged one Starlink launch a month before the delay. SpaceX was originally targeting two Starlink launches a month throughout 2020.

SpaceX is building and launching a constellation of up to 12,000, and potentially 42,000 satellites in low Earth orbit to support a global satellite internet service. The company expects to start service late this year in Canada and parts of the United States. 

SpaceX plans to add deployable visors to all future Starlink satellites after launching around 500 with their current design, Patricia Cooper, SpaceX’s vice president of satellite government relations, said during a webinar last week. 

“We would have about 500 satellites at their current brightness, and then all satellites beyond that would have these sunshades,” Cooper said during a webinar hosted by the American Astronomical Society and the Satellite Industry Association. “That is the ratio we would be looking at.”

SpaceX is seeking to lessen the brightness of Starlink satellites to reduce their impact on astronomy.