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SpaceX scrubs Starlink launch with two BlackSky satellites

ORLANDO, Fla., June 26 (UPI) — SpaceX scrubbed Friday’s plan to launch additional Starlink satellites in a mission that had another paying customer on board — what SpaceX calls its ride-share program.

The change in plans was not weather-related.

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“Standing down from today’s Starlink mission; team needed additional time for pre-launch checkouts, but Falcon 9 and the satellites are healthy. Will announce new target launch date once confirmed on the Range,” SpaceX said in a tweet.

A Falcon 9 rocket was set to lift off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying 57 Starlink communications satellites for Elon Musk‘s SpaceX, along with two small Earth observation satellites for Seattle-based BlackSky Global.

SpaceX also postponed the launch Thursday, but didn’t give a reason.

Eventually, SpaceX aims to launch thousands of Starlink satellites.

Launching Starlink regularly means SpaceX can take other paying customers, such as BlackSky, along for the ride — and for revenue. SpaceX launched three small imaging satellites for San Francisco-based Planet, formerly Planet Labs, earlier this month.

Industry observers have said SpaceX’s plan for more frequent, regularly scheduled ride-sharing launches will unleash new growth in the small-satellite industry, leading to easier and cheaper rollouts for new communication networks.

There will be a lot of opportunities for government agencies, universities and provate enterprise to piggyback their satellites aboard a SpaceX rocket.

SpaceX has 30 rocket launches in 2020 and 2021 that can accommodate small satellites. Its customers can buy space on the missions for as low as $ 1 million — which would allow a launch up to 440 pounds — a previously unprecedented price to put a satellite into orbit.

Reserving an entire launch on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket costs at least $ 50 million.

The small-satellite market is poised to generate $ 1 billion a year over the next decade, according to Northern Sky Research, which is based in Cambridge, Mass., and specializes in the satellite and space markets.

The SpaceX schedule for small satellites is in addition to its regular missions to the International Space Station or for large customers like the U.S. military.

SpaceX has noted that dedicated ride-share missions will not be delayed by trouble with another passenger’s schedule.

“If you are ready to fly during the scheduled launch period, you will fly,” the company said.

Customers who run into delays that prevent them from launching can book another launch with a 10 percent rebooking fee, SpaceX said.

BlackSky offers images and monitoring from space for industries that include defense, energy, construction and research. BlackSky obtained a $ 50 million investment in 2019 from Luxembourg-based Intelsat, a communications satellite service, to build a new constellation of Earth-imaging satellites.

A successful launch would boost BlackSky’s space network to six satellites, with a short-term goal of 16 satellites in orbit. They weigh about 120 pounds each and are designed to last only a few years before they need replacement.

SpaceX also hopes to generate significant revenue from its fledgling Internet service.

SpaceX began sign-ups June 12 for users who want to try the Starlink Internet in what the tech community calls a beta test — a validation of new technology in a small sample of the targeted eventual user.

Starlink will be available to any individual or organization, the company said, but the cost of the service hasn’t been announced.

“Private beta testing is expected to begin later this summer, followed by public beta testing, starting with higher latitudes,” SpaceX said in an email sent to those who signed up.

Astronauts return to space from U.S. soil

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (L) and Bob Behnken, who flew the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, brief mission controllers about their experience in the new vehicle on June 1. Photo courtesy of NASA

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