SpaceX is expected to launch 60 Starlink internet satellites into space on Monday, in its Falcon 9 rocket. The launch is part of an effort to increase broadband internet service globally, and the re-use of one particular Falcon 9 marks a milestone for the democratization of space, according to NASA’s former Chief Technologist.
Mason Peck is a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University and from 2011 to 2013 served as NASA Chief Technologist. He says the Starlink launch shows an ability within the space industry to lower the cost and risk of spaceflight.
“This launch is remarkable because it will be the fourth for this particular Falcon 9 rocket. No rocket has been reused this many times. In general, reusability is a pretty elusive goal for the space industry. The Space Shuttle demonstrated some of the principles in a human spaceflight-specific way, but SpaceX has taken the capability to a commercial level. Only recently, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has set up a public-private partnership for satellite servicing. If adopting these practices lowers the cost and risk of spaceflight, I expect doing so will democratize access to space for all of us. In particular, reusability should accelerate the commercial uses of space and offer more affordable opportunities for space science.
“The Starlink concept is innovative in a number of ways. The spacecraft are packed densely in the fairing, using an approach that works here because SpaceX controls the technology for both the launch vehicle and its payload. These satellites are designed for robustness through sheer numbers, not requiring that every single spacecraft is as reliable as classic communications satellites. When successful, Starklink will transform how the world accesses the internet. As someone with poor connectivity in my neighborhood, I can tell you that I’m looking forward to any improvements.”
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