Foxconn launches its first satellites on a SpaceX rideshare, to advance Microsoft space plan

Musky launch outfit teases possible Friday fling for its colossal Starship

Taiwan's contract manufacturer to the stars, Foxconn, has flown its first pair of satellites.

Foxconn, aka Hon Hai Precision Industry, is best known for building iPhones for Apple, servers and laptops for plenty of brands, and for operating a vast network of factories to do that sort of thing across much of the world. In recent years the megamanufacturer has diversified into such things as electric cars as it seeks new markets to conquer.

One such market is satellites, and in August Foxconn revealed it has an eye on a plan "to create a space internet solution, under the three major applications of Internet of Vehicles, smart city and B5G [beyond 5G] communication infrastructure."

It struck a strategic partnership with Microsoft on a low Earth orbit (LEO) global satellite system, and envisaged a time when it can use Azure Space services to link its contract manufacturing services and promote satellite system development in the countries where it operates.

Think of it as a bit like Starlink-as-a-service for countries where Foxconn has factories.

The builder of all things tech built a pair of sats named PEARL-1H and PEARL-1C to test its capabilities.

Jesse Chao Sr, Foxconn's director of B5G policy and corporate policy, said the sats are "meant to show we will be ready to meet the increase in demand for key components, sub-system, and assembly integration test, driving higher circulation and innovation in the new space industry."

The two CubeSats launched on Transporter 9 – a SpaceX "rideshare" mission executed by a Falcon 9 launcher that carried 90 payloads and, at the time of writing, is confirmed to have deployed 86 of its planned 89 deployments.

"This is a pilot run as proof of the concept for our efforts in LEO satellite broadband communications and next-gen, beyond 5G capabilities," added Dr Jen-Ming Wu, director of the Next-generation Communications Research Center at Hon Hai Research Institute, in a press release that also announced the Taiwanese company had hired Exolaunch to manage its birds.

As The Register browsed SpaceX's site for news of the Foxconn fling, we noted Elon Musk's space side hustle has listed a second launch for its superheavy Starship and Super Heavy booster – perhaps as soon as November 17.

The caveat "pending regulatory approval" is present in the announcement.

The first attempt at sending Starship into orbit ended with a fireball and damage to its launchpad.

"Starship's first flight test provided numerous lessons learned that directly contributed to several upgrades to both the vehicle and ground infrastructure to improve the probability of success on future flights," states SpaceX's teaser for the second launch. Those lessons mean this launch will feature "a hot-stage separation system and a new electronic Thrust Vector Control system for Super Heavy Raptor engines, in addition to reinforcements to the pad foundation and a water-cooled steel flame deflector, among many other enhancements."

The 121-meter tall craft can carry 150 tonnes into orbit in configurations that allow the booster to be re-used – or 250 tonnes if clients are willing to pay extra to destroy the booster.

The planned test flight will be a sub-orbital affair, with the booster landing in the Gulf of Mexico and Starship splashing down near Hawaii after around 90 minutes of travel. ®

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