Elon Musk tweets video of SpaceX's first broadband satellites in space


Thursday's launch carried a satellite from the Spanish company Hidesat aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.

The secondary payload consisted of two experimental satellites - Microsat-2a and 2b - which are the first phase in SpaceX's plan to deliver broadband internet service to the entire world. "If successful, Starlink constellation will serve least served". This synthetic-aperture radar satellite was commisioned by Hisdesat, a Spanish commercial satellite company, for governmental and commercial use.

SpaceX hopes to eventually send an additional 12,000 internet satellites around the Earth, and expects the service to bring in up to 40 million subscribers. Microsat-2a and -2b are the first prototypes for the company's planned constellation of satellites - dubbed Starlink - meant to offer broadband Internet around the world. "Even if these satellites work as planned, we still have considerable technical work ahead of us to design and deploy a low-Earth satellite constellation".

Also known as the payload fairing, the nosecone is an earplug-shaped casing that sits on the top of the rocket, shielding the vehicle's payload during launch. It was an otherwise routine launch and deployment, save for the attempt to recover the rocket's payload fairing - a feat that's never been tried before.

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SpaceX wants to reuse fairings, just as it reuses Falcon 9 first stages, to lower the cost of spaceflight and help open the heavens to exploration.

The faring was intact, however, he said on Twitter, and in the future they "should be able catch it with slightly bigger chutes to slow down descent". But one of the fairings landed several hundred metres away on water, though it didn't seem to have suffered any damage. Musk, who described the vessel as a "catcher's mitt in boat form", was unable to capture the rocket's two-piece nose cone, but it appeared to be intact after a nearby splashdown.

SpaceX, however, was attempting to recover the fairing - the aerodynamic covering that protects the satellite during the early phase of launch and is usually discarded after reaching altitudes where the atmosphere's density is low. These things aren't cheap, costing $US3 ($4) million per half - hence the motivation for recovery and reuse. This time around, SpaceX equipped its fairing with thrusters of its own as well as a guidance system and parachute which was supposed to slow it down enough that SpaceX's fancy ship, called Mr. Steven, could use its giant net to catch it in the air.