SpaceX launches the first satellites for Musk's Starlink Internet service

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – Elon Musk's SpaceX should have launched 60 small satellites in the low earth orbit on Wednesday, part of his rocket company's plan to sell space-based Internet service to finance its grandiose interplanetary ambitions.

PHOTO FILES: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket (in the center, in a horizontal position), is ready for launch on a refueling mission to the International Space Station on the historic 39A launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, February 17, 2017. REUTERS / Joe Skipper / File Photo

In a phone call with journalists ahead of the evening launch, the billionaire entrepreneur praised the "fundamental goodness" of his mission to expand global internet connectivity, but warned that success was far from being guaranteed.

Musk said he expects launch service revenues to exceed $ 3 billion a year, making Starlink the key to generating the money that SpaceX has privately to finance Musk's biggest dream of developing a new aircraft able to fly to pay customers on the moon and eventually try to colonize Mars.

"We think this is a springboard on the road to establishing a self-sufficient city on Mars and a base on the moon," said Musk, who is also the CEO of the car manufacturer Tesla Inc.

A rocket with the first 60 Starlink satellites was supposed to explode from the Cape Canaveral aviation station in Florida at 10:30 pm. Each satellite weighs 500 pounds (227 kg), making this the heaviest payload for each SpaceX rocket to date.

At least 12 launches carrying similar payloads are needed to get consistent internet coverage of most of the world, said Musk. Starlink is currently authorized only for operations in the United States.

Moss faces tough competition. In February, OneWeb sponsored by Airbus launched its own clutch of satellites, while LeoSat Enterprises and Canadian Telesat are also working to build data networks.

In each floor, small satellites orbit closer to the Earth than traditional communications satellites, a radical change made possible by leaps in laser technology and computer chips.

Moss has faced other challenges. In November, the entrepreneur, frustrated by the pace at which Starlink satellites were being developed, fired at least seven people in the program's senior management team on a campus in Redmond, Washington, outside of Seattle, reported by Reuters.

Musk said SpaceX has "enough capital" to make Starlink operational, but potentially it would need to raise funds if things went wrong with the multi-billion dollar effort, which he called "one of the most difficult engineering projects I've ever seen".

Musk said SpaceX would begin to approach customers by the end of the year or next year. As many as 2,000 satellites will be launched each year, he said. But he wavered on the timeline for placing 12,000 satellites in orbit as the company had previously described.

Reporting of Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Writing and additional reports by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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