Watch SpaceX Launch Its Next Huge Batch of Starlink Satellites

If you haven’t heard, there’s a new space race underway. The goal is to bring the “other 3 billion” people who lack internet access online using massive constellations of broadband satellites that number in the thousands. Leading the pack are SpaceX’s Starlink and OneWeb , former collaborators whose bid to bring the net to orbit has turned into a rivalry that plays out in FCC petitions and spicy Twitter exchanges. The tension is understandable given the stakes. For OneWeb, the global adoption of space-based internet is critical to the company’s existence; for SpaceX, it is key to funding Elon Musk’s Mars ambitions .Both companies put their first satellites into orbit last year, but 2020 is when things will get serious. In February, OneWeb will launch a batch of 34 internet satellites to bring its total to 40, and more launches are expected later in the year. SpaceX already has 122 Starlink satellites in orbit and plans to do as many as 24 Starlink launches this year with 60 satellites per batch—starting today. SpaceX says it is aiming to launch a Falcon 9 rocket today at 9:19 pm ET, and the video below will go live 15 minutes beforehand.

So far both SpaceX and OneWeb have only used their internet satellites for testing (or tweeting, in Musk’s case), but SpaceX says it will have enough birds in the air to start providing internet service by the summer. OneWeb says its constellation will offer limited service by the end of the year.Space-based internet is nothing new, of course. Companies like Viasat, HughesNet, and Iridium have been raining bits and bytes on Earth for decades. But the next generation of internet satellites promise to be far faster than their predecessors and to make memes accessible anywhere on the planet by rethinking extraterrestrial networking.No matter who you’re getting satellite internet from, the basics of the system are the same. A user sends packets of data from an antenna at their home toward a satellite, which relays these packets to a ground station back down on Earth. At this point, the spacefaring data travels along the global internet’s fiber optic cables just like any other data. Once it reaches its destination, say a Google cloud server , a new packet of data is sent back to the ground station, beamed up to the satellite, and then beamed back to the user’s home.