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First SpaceX internet satellites now set to launch Wednesday

Elon Musk's rocket company has been working on getting satellite broadband off the ground for years. Now the Falcon 9 is set to launch the first test.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 blasts off

SpaceX is ready to launch a test of its planned satellite internet service aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX

For the second time in recent days, SpaceX has delayed the launch of a rocket carrying prototype satellites for its planned broadband internet service.

The Falcon 9 is now set to blast off Wednesday, just a few weeks after SpaceX launched its huge Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time.

More than three years ago we learned Elon Musk and his rocket company were working on developing satellites to provide low-cost internet access around the world. Correspondence between the company and the Federal Communications Commission revealed that the first pair of demonstration satellites for the company's Starlink service will finally be launched into orbit.  

The main payload for the launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California will be the Spanish government's Paz satellite, designed to capture imagery of the Earth down to the single-meter scale. But there had been unconfirmed reports for several weeks now from space industry sources like NASASpaceFlight.com that a secondary passenger on the flight would be the Starlink demonstration setup.

SpaceX itself has been relatively mum about the debut of its Starlink satellites, and about the entire program itself. However, a letter from SpaceX to the Federal Communications Commission, posted to the FCC website Monday, makes it pretty clear what will be aboard the Falcon 9 when it launches.

The letter refers to two satellites, called Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, that will be launched as a secondary payload on the Paz mission. The FCC granted SpaceX a license in November to launch this pair of satellites as part of a test mission. In its application, the company describes the test objectives:

"In addition to proving out the development of the satellite bus and related subsystems, the test program for the Microsat-2a and -2b spacecraft will also validate the design of a phased array broadband antenna communications platform."

Putting that all together: SpaceX is testing internet broadband satellites that will be launched along with the Paz satellite.

Last Wednesday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gave his endorsement to SpaceX's application to operate two huge constellations of broadband satellites. The company has secured approval for the two test satellites, but the broader application for Musk's larger ISP vision is still awaiting a decision. 

The launch had originally been scheduled for Saturday, but was postponed to Sunday and then again until Wednesday to allow "additional time to perform final checkouts of upgraded fairing," according to a tweet from SpaceX.

A release from Vandenberg confirmed that the launch is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:17 a.m. PT and that "the Falcon 9 and payload remain healthy." 

SpaceX declined to make an official comment about the broadband project prototypes.

Even so, Joy Dunn, the company's "senior manager of new product introduction," did drop this emoji-based hint earlier this week on Twitter:

SpaceX hopes to have its global internet service up and running by the middle of the 2020s. Other public filings have revealed that the company hopes revenue from becoming an ISP could help fund its vision of a Mars colony.

If that pans out, spreading internet memes about Mars could eventually help us pay to get there. It's almost poetic.

Originally published Feb. 13 at 11:49 a.m. PT.
Update, Feb. 16 at 11:10 a.m. PT: Added that the launch date changed to Sunday and noted the endorsement from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
Update, Feb. 17 at 8:54 p.m. PT: Changes launch date to Wednesday.

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