One of SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites Launching Tonight Is Darker Than The Rest

night time spacex launch

Back in November, many astronomers raised concerns about SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. Shortly after deployment, observatories were noticing the train of 60 satellites shining brightly in the night’s sky. Here’s what it looked like in Chile during the second launch back in November.

And another view from the Netherlands during the first launch in May 2019.

Tonight, the folks at SpaceX are trying out an “experimental darkening treatment” on one of the satellites to reduce the albedo (or brightness) of the satellite. If it works, it should help reduce the brightness of the future satellites and lower the effect it has on observatories the satellites fly above. 

SpaceX is also providing astronomers with data sets showing the future orbits of tonight’s batch of Starlink satellites so they can anticipate when the satellites may affect their observations and adjust accordingly. 

Tonight’s launch has it all for space fans. Barring any setbacks, liftoff is expected at 9:19 pm EST. A little more than 8 minutes after launch (T+8:24), the first stage Falcon 9 will touch down on the drone ship ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ in the Atlantic Ocean. 

45 minutes after liftoff, SpaceX’s fairing recovery ship ‘Ms. Tree’ will attempt to catch half of the payload fairing. 

About an hour after launch (T+61:03), the batch of 60 Starlink satellites will begin deployment. Orbital deployment will take place at an altitude of 290 kilometers. But the satellites won’t stay there. After SpaceX engineers make sure all the satellites are good to go, the 60 satellites will begin using onboard thrusters to raise their altitude to 550 kilometers. This will take anywhere between one to four months to complete. And during this time, each of the satellites’ solar arrays will be set in a low-drag configuration, making them appear brighter in the night’s sky. 

Starlink satellites preparing for deployment. Credit: SpaceX

Tonight’s weather forecast is looking good with only a 10% chance of weather scrubbing it. If tonight’s launch is canceled, a backup date is set for tomorrow at 8:57 pm EST.

A live webcast goes live 15 minutes before launch.


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