technology

You’ll be able to see a SpaceX rocket in the sky tonight


A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from Florida (Picture: AP)

Elon Musk’s private space company is launching a rocket in Florida later this evening and it’ll be possible to see it streaking across the sky in the UK.

SpaceX plans to deliver another batch of Starlink satellites into orbit to continue its push towards 12,000 encircling the Earth.

The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the payload is due to blast off from Cape Canaveral in the US at 4.39pm local time. That translates to 9.39pm this evening here in the UK.

About 15 minutes later, eagle-eyed skywatchers in the UK should be able to see the rocket for themselves with the naked eye. It will appear as a bright, fast-moving dot across the night sky.

It should move from West to East and while it will be best viewed further to the south of the UK, anyone in the country should be able to glimpse it if the weather stays clear.

Obviously, it’s a good idea to get outside in plenty of time for the rocket pass as the exact timings could alter based on various conditions.

Although the launch will happen in Florida, you’ll be able to see the rocket in the UK (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Once it reaches space, the Falcon 9 rocket will jettison the satellites and return back to Earth to be re-used on a future mission. Meanwhile, the Starlink satellites will join the others already in orbit around Earth.

The aim of the satellites is to network together to beam down global internet access across Earth.

How do Starlink satellites work?

Starlink satellites will form a chain of lights in the sky (SpaceX)

Each Starlink satellite is equipped with four powerful phased array antennas that are capable of an enormous amount of throughput when it comes to radio waves. Therefore, internet signal can be communicated up to a satellite and spread out through the network before being fired back down again to any location on Earth.

Delivering internet via satellite is much more efficient because the signal travels 47% faster as a wave through the vacuum of space than it does being channelled along a fibre optic cable buried in the ground.

Each satellite has four antennas on board (Picture: Starlink)
The satellites draw their power from the sun (Picture: Starlink)

From an infrastructure perspective, it also means there’s no need to lay vast amounts of cabling across parts of the world.

Current satellites sending internet signals are around 22,236 miles (35,786 km) above the Earth. This results in a time delay in sending and receiving data. Starlink satellites are smaller and orbit closer, meaning they can carry and triangulate data much faster.

Elon Musk has said the Starlink network would be able to provide ‘minor’ internet coverage after 400 spacecraft were up and in orbit and ‘moderate’ coverage after about 800 satellites became operational.

On board each satellite is a powerful Ion propulsion system and a custom-built in-house navigation sensor.

An on-board sensor looks out for space junk (Picture: Starlink)
An ion propulsion system lets the satellite get into position (Picture: Starlink)

Together the two are able to automatically steer the satellites out of the way of space junk.

It also helps guide the satellites to the optimum position for delivering data transfer.

According to SpaceX, enough satellites may be in place by the end of 2020 to start supplying a limited amount of internet signal to some parts of the US and Canada.





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