by Chris Tobias
For the past seven years we here at Take Back the Sky have been focusing our efforts to get a real-life manned spaceship named Serenity on SpaceX and its founder and CEO, Elon Musk. If you want to understand why we chose SpaceX and not Virgin Galactic, Boeing, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, or any other private company that’s in the business of building and launching spaceships, you need look no further than the upcoming Starlink-1 mission. While SpaceX has been in the business of making history (and making spaceflight sexy again) for some time now, this latest mission has several features that just exude the daring, independent spirit that we Browncoats value so highly.
First of all, the mission’s very purpose is something any Browncoat would admire. With Starlink, SpaceX hopes to establish a mega-constellation of 12,000 satellites that will provide high-speed internet across the entire planet. The endeavor will cost Elon Musk and company roughly $10 billion, and it is expected to take approximately 10 years. When it’s finished, however, anyone will be able to have high-speed internet access anywhere on the globe, and the best connections will no longer be reserved for those who are in the most populated areas or have the finances to afford the equipment necessary to establish a good connection out on the raggedy edge. SpaceX plans to have half the constellation in orbit by 2024, with the full constellation out in the black by 2028.
The Starlink-1 launch, which is planned NET 10:30PM EDT on May 15 (02:30 GMT May 16) from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, will be the sixth SpaceX launch of 2019 and the fifth for a Falcon 9. It will also be the 70th Falcon 9 launch since 2010. Its payload will be no less than 60 satellites that will be inserted into Low Earth Orbit. SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell has stated publicly that this first batch of 60 satellites will drive the schedule for the next set of spacecraft to be launched, depending on how successful they are.
There’s more to the Browncoat nature of this mission than its everyman payload, however. The logistics of the mission also reflect the attitude of a company that aims to misbehave. Not only will the mission utilize a previously-flown Falcon 9 first stage, but for the first time, the satellites will also be launched within a previously-flown payload fairing. The Falcon 9 first stage being used is core B1049, which was previously utilized for the Iridium-8 mission in January 2019 as well as the Telstar 18V mission in September 2018. (It will be recovered yet again aboard SpaceX’s Atlantic droneship Of Course I Still Love You during this mission.) The payload fairing for the mission is expected to be the one that SpaceX successfully recovered from the Atlantic Ocean following the most recent Falcon Heavy mission.
And if that’s not enough leaf-on-the-wind derring-do for you, consider the test fire for this mission. SpaceX’s static fire test on the night of May 13 took place with the payload fairing and its 60 Starlink satellites already attached. This was not at all like a typical static fire test, for which the payload fairing is integrated with the rocket afterwards to keep the test fire from “getting pretty interesting,” as Hoban “Wash” Washburne might say. Elon Musk tweeted a picture of the interior of the payload fairing with the 60 Starlink satellites inside around 48 hours before the static fire, along with the comment, “Tight fit.”
Much like Tesla Motors, The Boring Company and SpaceX itself, Starlink is a project that Elon Musk is undertaking (and financing) because he wants to improve the human condition. Sure, there is the potential for profit (and plenty of it) if the Starlink constellation is successful, but if Musk’s motives were driven purely by profit, there would be no reason for him to engage in such expensive and risky endeavors. After all, we’re talking about a guy who had already amassed a huge fortune in the software industry and through the creation of Paypal and had more money by the end of the 20th century than most of us will see in our lives, yet he risked it all because he wanted to rid humanity of its dependence on automobiles with combustion engines that consumed fossil fuels while at the same time preparing human beings to become a multi-planet species. With motives like that, we would argue that Elon Musk’s companies are about as far from the Blue Sun model as you can get.
And while reliable Wi-Fi may not seem like something quite as noble, consider how important internet access has become to our daily lives. Most of us rely on it not only for interpersonal communication and access to news and information, but also for shopping, banking and education. The internet has become a more and more vital tool for our existence since its inception, and soon, thanks to Elon Musk and SpaceX, Starlink will allow people everywhere on the planet to say, “You can’t take the sky from me.”
If that doesn’t sound like a company that would name its first manned space capsule after the Firefly-class transport ship in Joss Whedon’s sci-fi television series of the same name, then there probably isn’t one.
And if you’re a Browncoat who would like to see SpaceX launch a Crew Dragon named Serenity in the near future, don’t forget to write a letter or postcard to Elon Musk and Gwynne Shotwell and let them know. That ship could still break atmo with astronauts aboard before the end of this year. After all, SpaceX has done the impossible before.
Peace, love and rockets…