SpaceX, the rocket company founded by the tech mogul Elon Musk, plans to launch a Spanish radar satellite atop one of its go-to rockets on Thursday morning.
If all goes well, the satellite, called Paz, will keep an eye on the oceans of the world for ship traffic.
But there's most likely a payload hitching a ride on the rocket that SpaceX isn't publicizing in its press kit: two smaller satellites that are part of Musk's plan to bathe Earth in high-speed internet coverage.
The scale of the proposal, informally known as Starlink, is incredible. In the coming years, the company hopes to launch 4,425 interlinked broadband-internet satellites into orbit some 700 to 800 miles above Earth, plus another 7,500 spacecraft into lower orbits.
That's nearly 12,000 satellites, more than twice the number of all satellites launched in history, according to a tally by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
SpaceX's founder, Elon Musk, at a press conference in February.
(Dave Mosher/Business Insider)
Musk and SpaceX have said little about their plan since announcing it in 2015. But since it would need approval from the Federal Communications Commission, public documents about the effort are released regularly.
According to FCC documents made public this month, the organization in November gave SpaceX permission to launch the two experimental spacecraft, called Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, to test its space-based internet concept.
The mission is set to lift off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Thursday at 9:17 a.m. ET — one day later than planned — aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.
Musk confirmed that the launch will test Starlink.
"Today's Falcon launch carries 2 SpaceX test satellites for global broadband," Musk tweeted on Wednesday (before a launch delay). "If successful, Starlink constellation will serve least served."
Watch the launch live on Thursday
The launch of a Falcon 9 rocket.
(SpaceX/Flickr (public domain))
SpaceX is sending up the mission using, in part, a reusable first-stage rocket booster that the company launched and recovered in August.
But SpaceX said in a release that it would "not attempt to recover Falcon 9's first stage after launch."
The Paz satellite is scheduled to deploy about 11 minutes after launch. There are no details in the press kit about the smaller satellites.