Watch SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Launch 60 Starlink Satellites Into Orbit

SpaceX has just launched 60 satellites into orbit as the rocket company takes yet another step in building its vast Starlink satellite internet network.

The satellites were packed into the payload section of a Falcon 9 rocket, which lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 11:44 p.m. EDT Wednesday night.

The full livestream was posted on Twitter, below, by the official SpaceX account.

Watch Falcon 9 launch 60 Starlink satellites to orbit →

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 29, 2021

Just two-and-a-half minutes later the rocket shut off its main engines and the booster stage separated as planned, ready for its autonomous return to Earth. The second stage, carrying the satellites, continued on into space to low Earth orbit.

About eight minutes and forty seconds into the mission, the booster stage of the rocket touched down on one of SpaceX's floating droneships, Just Read The Instructions, to a small round of applause from the launch team.

SpaceX is known for its reusable space technology, and that particular Falcon 9 had flown six times before. It was also the fourth time that that rocket had delivered Starlink satellites into space.

The starlink satellites that were deployed on this mission had a slightly different appearance to ones that had been delivered before them; they had been painted white for thermal reasons.

SpaceX's livestream announcer and lead manufacturing engineer Jessie Anderson said this should not make them any brighter in the sky because the painted side will be facing away from the Earth.

The satellites were deployed just over one hour after launch. In the coming days and weeks they will deploy their solar panels and distance themselves from one another using small on-board thrusters before settling into their planned orbits.

Wednesday's launch brings the total amount of Starlink satellites in orbit to around 1,395, according to NasaSpaceFlight.

This sounds like a lot, but it is only the first "shell" of satellites in the Starlink network. SpaceX is planning several more shells, each with hundreds or thousands of satellite units. The company eventually plans to put 12,000 Starlink satellites in orbit, though it has applied for permission to deploy 30,000.

SpaceX is now close to completing its first shell, which will consist of around 1,584 satellites. Once it's done, Starlink will have coverage between 52 and minus 52 degrees latitude, or around 80 percent of the Earth's surface, according to Everyday Astronaut. Subsequent shells will improve bandwidth and coverage.

Starlink is currently available to rural U.S. users as a beta service, priced at $99 per month plus upfront costs for equipment of between $550 and $800, according to a CNBC survey of Starlink users.

In a tweet earlier this month, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he expected the service to be out of beta by this summer.

Starlink has been criticized by some for its potential to obstruct night sky. Some of the satellites are so reflective they can be seen with the naked eye from Earth, while others will be spotted by telescopes that are trying to peer past them into deep space.

SpaceX has taken steps to solve the issue, such as testing out a black non-reflective coating one one satellite that reduced solar reflections by a factor of two compared to another model, according to research.

Yet astronomers are still concerned. John Barentine, an astronomer and director of public policy at the International Dark Sky Association, told Vox it will take too long to lobby for a change in international law that could mitigate obstruction of the night sky.

He added: "The number of satellites orbiting the Earth is about to increase by about an order of magnitude. And that makes it increasingly likely that science will be lost."

SpaceX launch
A long-exposure of a Falcon 9 launch, taken October 7, 2018 near Santa Barbara, California. SpaceX's Starlink network is growing rapidly. David McNew/Getty