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SpaceX launches first rocket of 2020 from Florida

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket Monday night from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., carrying a third batch of 60 Starlink satellites -- the first launch of 2020. Photo courtesy of SpaceX
SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket Monday night from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., carrying a third batch of 60 Starlink satellites -- the first launch of 2020. Photo courtesy of SpaceX

ORLANDO, Fla., Jan. 6 (UPI) -- SpaceX launched its third batch of 60 satellites for its Starlink broadband network on Monday night from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The mission lifted off as planned at 9:19 p.m. from Launch Complex 40, about 15 miles north of Port Canaveral. Skies were clear and breezes were calm.

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The company had 122 of its dinner table-size satellites in orbit already, each weighing about 573 pounds -- the weight of an upright piano. With the Monday launch, SpaceX advances toward its eventual goal to launch tens of thousands of satellites to beam high-speed Internet service to the planet.

The satellites reached orbit and deployed successfully. The company also landed the first-stage booster on its droneship in the Atlantic, the fourth time for this booster. SpaceX said it did not catch the fairing, or rocket nose cone, as it fell into the ocean.

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One of the satellites on Monday's launch had an experimental non-reflective coating as part of SpaceX's efforts to make Starlink less visible in the night sky. The American Astronomical Society and other stargazers have complained that the satellites have ruined some observations and photos of stars or distant galaxies.

SpaceX previously launched 60 satellites at a time in May and November, with two test satellites launched before that.

SpaceX says its Starlink network would provide service that "far surpasses that of traditional satellite Internet," with a global network "unbounded by ground infrastructure limitations."

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Company engineer Tom Praderio said in May that Starlink had tested the satellites by beaming a signal at speeds of 600 megabytes per second into jets in flight. That compares to 25 megabytes per second recommended by the Federal Communications Commission for streaming ultra-high-definition video.

Musk addressed a critic directly on Twitter in May. He posted, "There are already 4,900 satellites in orbit. ... Starlink won't be seen by anyone unless looking very carefully."

Each Starlink satellite has small thrusters that use electronic propulsion fueled by krypton gas. The motors will help redirect the spacecraft if it is headed for a collision with another space object.

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The thrusters also help the satellites re-enter Earth's atmosphere and burn up at the end of their useful life or if they become obsolete. If the thrusters fail, the low orbit of the satellites would mean burning up within five years anyway, the company said.

The first-stage booster that flew Monday night also helped launch a Starlink mission in May and two other launches in January 2019 and September 2018, according to SpaceX.

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