For several of the last few nights, there has been some excitement in the skies over the Chesapeake Bay. On Saturday night and again Monday night, a series of lights in a straight line shone brightly high in the night sky. No, it isn’t a UFO, as some people have joked about.
It is a group of satellites launched into orbit Friday night. SpaceX’s 65th launch of the year sent 22 Starlink satellites into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket Falcon 9 blasted off with the satellites Friday night just before midnight. After the satellites entered Earth’s orbit, they were visible across Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania over the weekend and again on Monday evening.
SpaceX shared the following video of the rocket launching and deploying the satellites. Skip to the five-minute mark to see the action:
Another launch was successfully completed Tuesday night at Cape Canaveral to blast another 22 satellites into low-Earth orbit, SpaceX said.
The satellites are part of internet provider Starlink’s “constellation” of satellites operated by SpaceX that provides internet coverage to over 60 countries. SpaceX touts it as “the world’s most advanced broadband satellite internet.” The satellites visible in the sky do, indeed, look like a moving constellation.
The rocket that delivers these satellites is the first of its kind. Falcon 9 is a reusable, two-stage rocket that SpaceX made to safely transport people and payloads into Earth’s orbit and beyond. Falcon 9 generates more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at sea level. When the payload is delivered, the rocket makes a vertical landing on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean. The most expensive parts of the rocket can be reused, and that cost savings makes frequent launches more affordable, SpaceX says.
More than 5,000 small Starlink satellites are in orbit now. In various parts of the Bay region, people reported spotting the newest satellites moving in formation across the sky. We heard of sightings from the upper Bay down to Virginia and west to Pennsylvania. One person described them as looking “just like a string of pearls”. A Facebook group just for tracking Starlink’s location in order to spot the satellites has grown to nearly 15,000 members. Two apps are recommended for those who want to check possible viewing times: Satellite Tracker and FindStarLink.
-Meg Walburn Viviano
Falcon 9 is equipped with four hypersonic grid fins positioned at the base of the interstage. They orient the rocket during reentry by moving the center of pressure.
The second stage, powered by a single Merlin Vacuum Engine, delivers Falcon 9’s payload to the desired orbit. The second stage engine ignites a few seconds after stage separation, and can be restarted multiple times to place multiple payloads into different orbits.