Elon Musk launches FIFTY Starlink satellites – as critics warn over 'dangerous space junk'

SPACEX has launched another batch of its Starlink satellites amid fears that the company is cluttering Earth's orbit with space junk.

A Falcon 9 rocket lofted 48 satellites into clear blue skies over Florida on Wednesday following liftoff from the Kennedy Space Centre.

SpaceX confirmed the deployment in low-Earth orbit at 3:06 p.m. UK time (10:06 a.m. EST) in a tweet on Wednesday.

The rocket's first stage then returned to Earth for a smooth touchdown on a SpaceX drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

It marks the tenth Falcon 9 launch of 2022 and takes the total number of Starlink satellites in orbit to more than 2,000.

"Time to let the American broomstick fly and hear the sounds of freedom," SpaceX's launch director said just before launch.

The comment was an apparent response to Russian space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin, who last week halted sales of rocket engines to U.S launch providers amid economic sanctions brought against the country over its invasion of Ukraine.

Upon announcing the blacklisting, Rogozin mocked "let them fly on something else, their broomsticks."

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Starlink is a satellite project launched by billionaire Tesla boss Elon Musk in 2015.

He aims to put 12,000 satellites into orbit over the next decade, possibly rising to 42,000 in future.

That mega-constellation will eventually be able to beam internet coverage to anywhere on the planet, according to SpaceX.

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The company's high-speed satellite internet is already available in some countries, including parts of the US and UK.

It recently sent a massive delivery of emergency internet satellite dishes to Ukraine to help communications battered by Russia.

Wednesday's Starlink mission, called Starlink 4-10, was the ambitious project's 41st flight. 

"Another 48 Starlinks just reached orbit," Musk tweeted on after the successful launch.

Amid promises that Starlink will provide cheap, reliable WiFi across the globe, fears over the megaconstellations impacts on future rocket launches and astronomical observations are intensifying.

Last month, experts raised the alarm about the potential for the Starlink network's rapid expansion to clutter low-Earth orbit.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Nasa raised fears that Starlink could present a risk to its spacecraft.

"Nasa has concerns with the potential for a significant increase in the frequency of conjunction events and possible impacts to Nasa's science and human spaceflight missions," the agency wrote on Wednesday.

Nasa noted there are currently 25,000 total objects tracked on-orbit – and about 6,100 below 600 km.

SpaceX's Gen2 expansion "would more than double the number of tracked objects in orbit and increase the number of objects below 600 km over five-fold," it added.

Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell outlined the effect that Starlink satellites have on scientists' observations.

"We've been concerned with having these large numbers of satellites that interfere with astronomical observations," McDowell, part of the American Astronomical Society panel examining the impacts of satellites on astronomy, said.

"I think we need a little more experience with the several thousand operating satellites before we can ramp up to the tens of thousands."

Amazon, which has pledged to spend at least $10billion to build 3,236 internet-beaming satellites through its Project Kuiper program, separately raised concerns with the FCC about SpaceX's plan.

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Amazon said under SpaceXs application "at least hundreds and potentially more than ten thousand SpaceX satellites could operate at the same altitudes as the Kuiper System."

It warned "the effect of this orbital overlap would be a dramatic increase in risks and other burdens on the Kuiper System" and asked the FCC to impose "reasonable conditions."

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