What SpaceX Starlink Satellites Do and How Many Have Been Launched Into Space

On Sunday, Elon Musk's SpaceX launched another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit around the Earth. But what is the aim of the Starlink project and how many satellites has the company sent into space so far?

The goal of Starlink is to provide superfast global internet coverage with very low latency, even in rural or remote areas that may normally lack reliable connectivity.

In order to do this, the company is planning to deploy tens of thousands of mass-produced broadband satellites in low Earth orbit, creating a "mega-constellation" that will communicate with receivers on the ground.

Traditional internet satellites struggle to provide fast coverage because many are in very high geostationary orbits—around 22,000 miles above the Earth's equator. This means latency is high—or in other words, data takes a relatively long time to travel between the surface and back.

Starlink satellites are being deployed around 60 times closer to Earth than traditional satellites. SpaceX says this results in lower latency and the "the ability to support services typically not possible with traditional satellite internet."

SpaceX has received regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to deploy up to 12,000 satellites, and is planning to launch around 30,000 more.

The company's initial constellation will consist of 1,440 satellites, which they hope will provide "near-global coverage of the populated world in 2021."

SpaceX has successfully conducted more than 20 Starlink launches to date, sending satellites into space mostly in batches of 60, with the vast majority being deployed at an orbital altitude of around 340 miles.

So far, the company has launched 1,325 Starlink satellites, although 64 of these have reentered the Earth's atmosphere leaving 1,261 in orbit. SpaceX now owns around one-third of all the active satellites in orbit above the Earth.

Each satellite weighs around 570 pounds, according to the company. They measure about the same size as a table, Sky & Telescope magazine reported.

Starlink is currently delivering initial beta services in some parts of the world, including the United States, with the company claiming that users can currently expect to see data speeds between 50 to 150 megabytes per second and latency from 20 to 40 milliseconds in most locations over the next several months.

The company said data speed and latency will "improve dramatically" as more satellites are launched and more ground stations are installed.

The project has received criticism from some in the astronomical community who say that the satellites could have a negative impact on scientific observations, while adding more objects to the already crammed orbital environment.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from space launch complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Florida on March 30, 2017. BRUCE WEAVER/AFP via Getty Images