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Elon Musk shows us the 60 satellites that will one day help power a better internet

Image: Uncredited/AP/REX/ShutterstockBy Adam Rosenberg2019-05-12 20:44:06 UTC

The first seeds of SpaceX's Starlink project will soon be planted.

On Saturday, Elon Musk tweeted out a photo of 60 satellites loaded into the fairing, or nose cone, of his company's Falcon rocket. The hardware represents a first step toward completing Starlink, an eventual satellite constellation that will beam high-speed internet down to Earth from space.

The fairing is the same one that carried a Tesla Roadster into space in 2018. Musk included a photo of that as well, just to give his followers a better sense of scale. Where the Roadster barely filled up the bottom portion of the fairing's interior, the satellites look positively crammed in.

This first set of satellites is expected to take to the skies in the coming days, perhaps as early as Wednesday. Musk warned that there might be issues since this is the first proper Starlink mission following an early 2018 launch that sent two demo satellites skyward.

But there are also many more launches to come. Starlink will ultimately depend on a network consisting of thousands of satellites, but even in its earlier form the eventual constellation will require multiple launches before it's partially operational.

Much will likely go wrong on 1st mission. Also, 6 more launches of 60 sats needed for minor coverage, 12 for moderate.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 12, 2019

The dream of high-speed internet delivered from space may be realized by Starlink, but it's going to take a lot of work. SpaceX plans — and has received Federal Communications Commission approval — to send almost 12,000 satellites into low orbit where they'll split into three orbital shell-encased clusters arrayed around Earth.

While the long-term project shows great promise, it's also not without risks. Sending that much hardware into orbit — each fuel-carrying satellite weighs around 900 pounds — adds to an already risky accumulation of space junk in the immediate vicinity of Earth.

UPDATE: May 13, 2019, 8:26 a.m. EDT An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the federal agency that granted Starlink approval as the Federal Trade Commission. It is actually the Federal Communications Commission.

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