May 24, 2019

SpaceX launches 60 internet-beaming Starlink satellites to orbit

Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX launched 60 of its internet-beaming Starlink satellites to orbit on Thursday night from Cape Canaveral, marking the first launch of its kind for the Elon Musk-founded company.

Why it matters: Starlink is SpaceX's big move into the satellite internet market. The company hopes to one day have a constellation of thousands of satellites in orbit, beaming broadband internet around the globe, particularly to areas without reliable coverage now. Musk thinks that revenue from Starlink has the potential to help fund the company's big plans for the future, including a possible city on Mars or base on the Moon.

Details: The Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 10:30 ET, and the first booster returned for a smooth landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean about 10 minutes after launch, after sending the satellites to orbit.

  • This was the booster's third trip to space, according to SpaceX, after launching one mission earlier this year and another in 2018.
  • That kind of reusability is key to SpaceX's business plan, which hinges on driving down the cost of launching payloads to space by reusing hardware multiple times.
  • It should take about 30 launches of 60 Starlink satellites each to get global coverage, according to SpaceX, with minor coverage possible with seven total launches.

The catch: Musk admits that it's possible that not all of the Starlink satellites launched in this batch will work.

  • While SpaceX did send two prototype satellites to space in 2018 to test some of the Starlink technology, this launch marks the first time the company has launched production satellites to orbit for the project.
  • “This was one of the hardest engineering projects I’ve ever seen done, and it’s been executed really well," Musk said during a press call ahead of the launch last week.

Context: SpaceX isn't the only company hoping to provide global broadband coverage using a mega-constellation of satellites. Companies like OneWeb and Amazon's Project Kuiper are planning to launch their own spacecraft to orbit in the coming years. This puts Musk in direct competition with Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, who owns the space company Blue Origin.

  • For his part, Musk welcomes the competition, saying he's a proponent of consumers having "the best possible range of prices."
  • Musk even went so far as to say that SpaceX would consider launching spacecraft for other satellite internet companies as well.

But, but, but: The business case for these mega-constellations still isn't a sure thing. Even if more than one constellation can survive in the marketplace, they will still face competition from each other and other terrestrial options — like 5G networks.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 665,164 — Total deaths: 30,852 — Total recoveries: 140,225.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 124,665 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by early Sunday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

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Gilead expands access to experimental coronavirus drug in emergency cases

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day said in an open letter Saturday the company is expanding access to its experimental anti-coronavirus drug remdesivir to include severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The big pig picture: President Trump has called the antiviral drug "promising," but the results of six clinical trials on this investigational medicine are still being conducted, so its effectiveness the treatment of the novel coronavirus has yet to be proved. The World Health Organization is involved in the tests.

Go deeperArrow3 hours ago - Health