Microsoft says video calls in Teams grew 1,000% in March

With the COVID-19 pandemic making work from home the default for those companies that are able to do so, it’s no surprise that we are seeing a massive rise in the usage of video chat tools like Zoom, Google Meet and Teams . We’d already heard some updates from Zoom and Google, but today Microsoft joined the parade with a new report on how its Teams users have adapted to the rise of remote work.

Back on March 16, the company reported 900 million meeting minutes in Teams . Now, less than a month later, it says that it saw a new daily record of 2.7 billion meetings in one on March 31. During those meetings, more users than ever also turn on their video cameras. Overall, the number of users who go on camera has doubled since before this crisis began and the overall number of video calls in Teams grew by over 1,000 percent in March.

That’s a lot of time spent in meetings that could’ve probably been used in more productive ways, but it sure is a lot of Teams meetings.

The Microsoft team also looked at where people use video most, with Norway and the Netherlands leading the pack. There, 60 percent of calls include video. In the U.S., that number is 38 percent. Microsoft says this may be due to the availability of fast broadband.

Microsoft also found that its users are also spending more time of the day with Teams. In March, the average time between when somebody first used teams and the last use of the service increased by over an hour. The company argues that this doesn’t mean that people are working longer hours, “rather that they are breaking up the day in a way that works for their personal productivity or makes space for obligations outside of work.”

No matter the service a company uses for remote work, it’ll be interesting to see how many of these new habits will stick once this crisis is over. In China, where some employees are now returning to work, the number of daily active Teams users continues to grow according to Microsoft but there will surely also be regions where usage will decline quickly once things get back to something resembling normal.

Africa Roundup: Africa’s tech ecosystem responds to COVID-19

In March, the virus gripping the world — COVID-19 — started to spread in Africa. In short order, actors across the continent’s tech ecosystem began to step up to stem the spread.

Early in March Africa’s coronavirus cases by country were in the single digits, but by mid-month those numbers had spiked leading the World Health Organization to sound an alarm.

“About 10 days ago we had 5 countries affected, now we’ve got 30,” WHO Regional Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti said at a press conference on March 19. “It’s has been an extremely rapid…evolution.” 

By the World Health Organization’s stats Tuesday there were 3671 COVID-19 cases in Sub-Saharan Africa and 87 confirmed deaths related to the virus — up from 463 cases and 8 deaths on March 18.

As the COVID-19 began to grow in major economies, governments and startups in Africa started measures to shift a greater volume of transactions toward digital payments and away from cash — which the World Health Organization flagged as a conduit for the spread of the coronavirus.

Africa’s leader in digital payment adoption — Kenya — turned to mobile-money as a public-health tool.

At the urging of the Central Bank and President Uhuru Kenyatta, the country’s largest telecom, Safaricom, implemented a fee-waiver on East Africa’s leading mobile-money product, M-Pesa, to reduce the physical exchange of currency.

The company announced that all person-to-person (P2P) transactions under 1,000 Kenyan Schillings (≈ $10) would be free for three months.

Kenya has one of the highest rates of digital finance adoption in the world — largely due to the dominance of M-Pesa  in the country — with 32 million of its 53 million population subscribed to mobile-money accounts, according to Kenya’s Communications Authority.

On March 20, Ghana’s central bank directed mobile money providers to waive fees on transactions of GH₵100 (≈ $18), with restrictions on transactions to withdraw cash from mobile-wallets.

Ghana’s monetary body also eased KYC requirements on mobile-money, allowing citizens to use existing mobile phone registrations to open accounts with the major digital payment providers, according to a March 18 Bank of Ghana release.

Growth in COVID-19 cases in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation of 200 million, prompted one of the country’s largest digital payments startups to act.

Lagos based venture Paga made fee adjustments, allowing merchants to accept payments from Paga customers for free — a measure “aimed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus by reducing cash handling in Nigeria,” according to a company release.

In March, Africa’s largest innovation incubator, CcHub, announced funding and engineering support to tech projects aimed at curbing COVID-19 and its social and economic impact.

The Lagos and Nairobi based organization posted an open application on its website to provide $5,000 to $100,000 funding blocks to companies with COVID-19 related projects.

CcHub’s CEO Bosun Tijani expressed concern for Africa’s ability to combat a coronavirus outbreak. “Quite a number of African countries, if they get to the level of Italy or the UK, I don’t think the system… is resilient enough to provide support to something like that,” Tijani said.

Cape Town based crowdsolving startup Zindi — that uses AI and machine learning to tackle complex problems — opened a challenge to the 12,000 registered engineers on its platform.

The competition, sponsored by AI4D, tasks scientists to create models that can use data to predict the global spread of COVID-19 over the next three months. The challenge is open until April 19, solutions will be evaluated against future numbers and the winner will receive $5,000.

Zindi will also sponsor a hackathon in April to find solutions to coronavirus related problems.

Image Credits: Sam Masikini via Zindi

On the digital retail front, Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia announced measures it would take on its network to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Nigeria headquartered operation — with online goods and services verticals in 11 African countries — said it would donate certified face masks to health ministries in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria and Uganda, drawing on its supply networks outside Africa.

The company has also offered African governments use of of its last-mile delivery network for distribution of supplies to healthcare facilities and workers.

Jumia is reviewing additional assets it can offer the public sector. “If governments find it helpful we’re willing to do it,” CEO Sacha Poignonnec told TechCrunch.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch

African tech around the ‘net

What does a pandemic say about the tech we’ve built?

There’s a joke* being reshared on chat apps that takes the form of a multiple choice question — asking who’s the leading force in workplace digital transformation? The red-lined punchline is not the CEO or CTO but: C) COVID-19.

There’s likely more than a grain of truth underpinning the quip. The novel coronavirus is pushing a lot of metaphorical buttons right now. ‘Pause’ buttons for people and industries, as large swathes of the world’s population face quarantine conditions that can resemble house arrest. The majority of offline social and economic activities are suddenly off limits.

Such major pauses in our modern lifestyle may even turn into a full reset, over time. The world as it was, where mobility of people has been all but taken for granted — regardless of the environmental costs of so much commuting and indulged wanderlust — may never return to ‘business as usual’.

If global leadership rises to the occasional then the coronavirus crisis offers an opportunity to rethink how we structure our societies and economies — to make a shift towards lower carbon alternatives. After all, how many physical meetings do you really need when digital connectivity is accessible and reliable? As millions more office workers log onto the day job from home that number suddenly seems vanishingly small.

COVID-19 is clearly strengthening the case for broadband to be a utility — as so much more activity is pushed online. Even social media seems to have a genuine community purpose during a moment of national crisis when many people can only connect remotely, even with their nearest neighbours.

Hence the reports of people stuck at home flocking back to Facebook to sound off in the digital town square. Now the actual high street is off limits the vintage social network is experiencing a late second wind.

Facebook understands this sort of higher societal purpose already, of course. Which is why it’s been so proactive about building features that nudge users to ‘mark yourself safe’ during extraordinary events like natural disasters, major accidents and terrorist attacks. (Or indeed why it encouraged politicians to get into bed with its data platform in the first place — no matter the cost to democracy.)

In less fraught times, Facebook’s ‘purpose’ can be loosely summed to ‘killing time’. But with ever more sinkholes being drilled by the attention economy that’s a function under ferocious and sustained attack.

Over the years the tech giant has responded by engineering ways to rise back to the top of the social heap — including spying on and buying up competition, or directly cloning rival products. It’s been pulling off this trick, by hook or by crook, for over a decade. Albeit, this time Facebook can’t take any credit for the traffic uptick; A pandemic is nature’s dark pattern design.

What’s most interesting about this virally disrupted moment is how much of the digital technology that’s been built out online over the past two decades could very well have been designed for living through just such a dystopia.

Seen through this lens, VR should be having a major moment. A face computer that swaps out the stuff your eyes can actually see with a choose-your-own-digital-adventure of virtual worlds to explore, all from the comfort of your living room? What problem are you fixing VR? Well, the conceptual limits of human lockdown in the face of a pandemic quarantine right now, actually…

Virtual reality has never been a compelling proposition vs the rich and textured opportunity of real life, except within very narrow and niche bounds. Yet all of a sudden here we all are — with our horizons drastically narrowed and real-life news that’s ceaselessly harrowing. So it might yet end up wry punchline to another multiple choice joke: ‘My next vacation will be: A) Staycation, B) The spare room, C) VR escapism.’

It’s videoconferencing that’s actually having the big moment, though. Turns out even a pandemic can’t make VR go viral. Instead, long lapsed friendships are being rekindled over Zoom group chats or Google Hangouts. And Houseparty — a video chat app — has seen surging downloads as barflies seek out alternative night life with their usual watering-holes shuttered.

Bored celebs are TikToking. Impromptu concerts are being livestreamed from living rooms via Instagram and Facebook Live. All sorts of folks are managing social distancing and the stress of being stuck at home alone (or with family) by distant socializing — signing up to remote book clubs and discos; joining virtual dance parties and exercise sessions from bedrooms. Taking a few classes together. The quiet pub night with friends has morphed seamlessly into a bring-your-own-bottle group video chat.

This is not normal — but nor is it surprising. We’re living in the most extraordinary time. And it seems a very human response to mass disruption and physical separation (not to mention the trauma of an ongoing public health emergency that’s killing thousands of people a day) to reach for even a moving pixel of human comfort. Contactless human contact is better than none at all.

Yet the fact all these tools are already out there, ready and waiting for us to log on and start streaming, should send a dehumanizing chill down society’s backbone.

It underlines quite how much consumer technology is being designed to reprogram how we connect with each other, individually and in groups, in order that uninvited third parties can cut a profit.

Back in the pre-COVID-19 era, a key concern being attached to social media was its ability to hook users and encourage passive feed consumption — replacing genuine human contact with voyeuristic screening of friends’ lives. Studies have linked the tech to loneliness and depression. Now we’re literally unable to go out and meet friends the loss of human contact is real and stark. So being popular online in a pandemic really isn’t any kind of success metric.

Houseparty, for example, self-describes as a “face to face social network” — yet it’s quite the literal opposite; you’re foregoing face-to-face contact if you’re getting virtually together in app-wrapped form.

While the implication of Facebook’s COVID-19 traffic bump is that the company’s business model thrives on societal disruption and mainstream misery. Which, frankly, we knew already. Data-driven adtech is another way of saying it’s been engineered to spray you with ad-flavored dissatisfaction by spying on what you get up to. The coronavirus just hammers the point home.

The fact we have so many high-tech tools on tap for forging digital connections might feel like amazing serendipity in this crisis — a freemium bonanza for coping with terrible global trauma. But such bounty points to a horrible flip side: It’s the attention economy that’s infectious and insidious. Before ‘normal life’ plunged off a cliff all this sticky tech was labelled ‘everyday use’; not ‘break out in a global emergency’.

It’s never been clearer how these attention-hogging apps and services are designed to disrupt and monetize us; to embed themselves in our friendships and relationships in a way that’s subtly dehumanizing; re-routing emotion and connections; nudging us to swap in-person socializing for virtualized fuzz that designed to be data-mined and monetized by the same middlemen who’ve inserted themselves unasked into our private and social lives.

Captured and recompiled in this way, human connection is reduced to a series of dilute and/or meaningless transactions. The platforms deploying armies of engineers to knob-twiddle and pull strings to maximize ad opportunities, no matter the personal cost.

It’s also no accident we’re also seeing more of the vast and intrusive underpinnings of surveillance capitalism emerge, as the COVID-19 emergency rolls back some of the obfuscation that’s used to shield these business models from mainstream view in more normal times. The trackers are rushing to seize and colonize an opportunistic purpose.

Tech and ad giants are falling over themselves to get involved with offering data or apps for COVID-19 tracking. They’re already in the mass surveillance business so there’s likely never felt like a better moment than the present pandemic for the big data lobby to press the lie that individuals don’t care about privacy, as governments cry out for tools and resources to help save lives.

First the people-tracking platforms dressed up attacks on human agency as ‘relevant ads’. Now the data industrial complex is spinning police-state levels of mass surveillance as pandemic-busting corporate social responsibility. How quick the wheel turns.

But platforms should be careful what they wish for. Populations that find themselves under house arrest with their phones playing snitch might be just as quick to round on high tech gaolers as they’ve been to sign up for a friendly video chat in these strange and unprecedented times.

Oh and Zoom (and others) — more people might actually read your ‘privacy policy‘ now they’ve got so much time to mess about online. And that really is a risk.

*Source is a private Twitter account called @MBA_ish

88 out of top 200 US cities have seen internet speeds decline this past week, 3 cities by more than 40%

The impacts of telecommuting, shelter-in-place laws and home quarantines resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak are starting to impact broadband speeds across a number of U.S. cities, a new report has found. According to broadband analysis site BroadbandNow, 88 out of the top 200 most populous U.S. cities analyzed have now experienced some form of network degradation over the past week, compared with the 10 weeks prior, as more people are going online to work from home, video chat and stream movies and TV to keep themselves entertained. In a small handful of cities over the past week, there have even been significant degradations with download speeds dropping more than 40%, compared with the 10 weeks prior.

It’s not necessarily the areas hit hardest by the spread of the novel coronavirus that are experiencing the worst problems.

Cities including LA, Chicago, Brooklyn and San Francisco have seen little or no disruption in download speeds, the report claims. Seattle is also holding up well.

But New York City, now considered the epicenter of the virus in the U.S., saw download speeds drop by 24% last week, compared to the previous 10-week range. That said, NYC home network connections, which have a median speed of nearly 52 Mbps, are managing.

The good news is that in the majority of markets, network speeds are holding up.

But of the 88 out of 200 cities that saw declines, more than two dozen saw dips of either 20% below range or more, the data indicates.

These include:

Austin, TX (-44%); Charlotte, NC (-24%); Fayetteville, NC (-22%); Fort Lauderdale, FL (-29%); Hialeah, FL (-21%); Houston, TX (-24%); Irvine, CA (-20%); Jersey City, NJ (-25%); Kansas City, MO (-25%); Lawrenceville, GA (-24%); Littleton, CO (-22%); Marietta, GA (-29%); Miami, FL (-27%); Nashville, TN (-20%); New York, NY (-24%); Omaha, NE (-24%); Overland Park, KS (-33%); Oxnard, CA (-42%); Plano, TX (-31%); Raleigh, NC (-20%); Rochester, NY (-33%); St. Louis, MO (-21%) St. Paul, MN (-29%); San Jose, CA (-38%); Scottsdale, AZ (-32%); Washington, DC (-30%); and Winston-Salem, NC (-41%).

Three cities, in particular, were seeing serious network degradations of over 40%: Austin, TX (-44%), Winston Salem, NC (-41%), and Oxnard, CA (-42%). San Jose, CA was nearing this range, with a drop of 38%.

Internet service providers have been responding to the health crisis by suspending data caps, increasing base-level speeds and extending free access to low-income families during this time. But their ability to keep up with this level of high demand is being tested.

Streaming services, being one of the larger draws on bandwidth, have been lowering the quality of their streams to use less network capacity, as U.S. connectivity needs have grown. Yesterday, for example, YouTube announced it would default to SD connections to tame bandwidth demands. Amazon and Netflix have reduced stream quality in Europe. But despite record levels of network traffic in the U.S., Netflix hasn’t made any commitments to do the same in the U.S. Today, Netflix had an hour-long service interruption impacting some U.S. and European users.

Another area of concern is how well more rural areas will hold up with new stay-at-home and work-from-home orders in place. Often, these markets are only served by legacy technologies like DSL . So far, they’ve held up, BroadbandNow reports, but this could still change.

With lower bandwidth, Disney+ opens streaming service in UK, Ireland, 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

Disney+, the streaming service from the Walt Disney Company, has been rapidly ramping up in the last several weeks. But while some of that expansion has seen some hiccups, other regions are basically on track. Today, as expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland; it also reconfirmed the delayed debut in France will be coming online on April 7.

Seven is the operative number here, it seems: it’s the largest multi-country launch so far for the service.

“Launching in seven markets simultaneously marks a new milestone for Disney+,“ said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in a statement. “As the streaming home for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney+ delivers high-quality, optimistic storytelling that fans expect from our brands, now available broadly, conveniently, and permanently on Disney+. We humbly hope that this service can bring some much-needed moments of respite for families during these difficult times.”

Pricing is £5.99/€6.99 per month, or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription. Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal, will follow in summer 2020.

The service being rolled out will feature 26 Disney+ Originals plus an “extensive collection” of titles (some 500 films, 26 exclusive original movies and series and thousands of TV episodes to start with) from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and other content producers owned by the entertainment giant, in what has been one of the boldest moves yet from a content company to go head-to-head with OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

The expansion of Disney+ has been caught a bit in the crossfire of world events. The new service is launching at what has become an unprecedented time for streaming: because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of of the world is being told to stay home.

That means huge demand for new services to entertain and distract people who are now sheltering in place. But it has also been putting a huge strain on broadband networks, and to be a responsible streamer (and to make sure quality is not too impacted), Disney confirmed (as it previously said it would) it would be launching the service with “lower overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25%.

Titles in the mix debuting today include “The Mandalorian” live-action Star Wars series; a live-action “Lady and the Tramp,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,”; “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” docuseries from National Geographic; “Marvel’s Hero Project,” which celebrates extraordinary kids making a difference in their communities; “Encore!,” executive produced by the multi-talented Kristen Bell; “The Imagineering Story” a 6-part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks and animated short film collections “SparkShorts” and “Forky Asks A Question” from Pixar Animation Studios.

Some 600 episodes of “The Simpsons” is also included (with the latest season 31 coming later this year).

With entire households now being told to stay together and stay inside, we’re seeing a huge amount of pressure being put on to broadband networks and a true test of the multiscreen approach that streaming services have been building over the years. In this case, you can use all the usuals: mobile phones, streaming media players, smart TVs and gaming consoles to watch the Disney+ service (including Amazon devices, Apple devices, Google devices, LG Smart TVs with webOS, Microsoft’s Xbox Ones, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment, with the ability to use four concurrent streams per subscription, or up to 10 devices with unlimited downloads. As you would expect, there is also the ability to set up parental controls and individual profiles.

Carriers with paid-TV services that are also on board so far include Deutsche Telekom, O2 in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, TIM in Italy and Canal+ in France when the country comes online. No BT in the UK, which is too bad for me (sniff). Sky and NOW TV are also on board.

Watch SpaceX launch 60 more Starlink satellites and attempt a Falcon 9 re-use record

SpaceX is launching its latest Starlink mission today, with a takeoff time of 8:16 AM EDT (5:16 AM PDT) currently scheduled to take place at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch will carry 60 more Starlink broadband internet satellites to their low Earth orbit destination, using a Falcon 9 rocket with a booster that flew four times previously, including twice in 2018 and twice last year, most recently in November for another Starlink mission. This is the second launch attempt for this mission, after a scrubbed attempt on Sunday due to an engine power issue, and there’s a backup launch opportunity set for Thursday at 7:56 AM EDT should this try encounter any issues or weather delays.

SpaceX is proceeding with this launch despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which late on Tuesday prompted NASA to move to a ‘Stage 3’ condition across all of their facilities, which mandates telework for all agency employees except for those whose presence on site are mission critical for operations.

This launch will include a landing attempt for the Falcon 9 booster, meaning if all goes well SpaceX could recover it for a fifth time for an attempt at refurbishment and re-use. Five flights of a Falcon 9 booster would be a record for SpaceX – and the booster that it’s attempting this mission with is already a record-holder, since it achieved SpaceX’s existing high-water mark for re-use with its last November launch.

The primary mission is to deliver the sixth batch of 60 of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites to space, which will grow the total constellation size to 360. SpaceX plans to begin commercial operation of the constellation later this year if all goes well, providing high-speed, reliable broadband internet to customers in North America, with lower latency and better speeds than are available using existing satellite internet service, which depend on larger, geosynchronous satellites placed much farther out from Earth.

SpaceX will also be aiming to recover the two fairing halves used to protect the satellite cargo on this launch, using two ships stationed at sea that have large nets strung across struts extending from their surface. SpaceX has been attempting these recoveries in order to further increase the reusability (and reduce the cost) of launch but so far it hasn’t had much consistency in its success, catching three fairings in total. The fairing being used today flew before, too – during the May 2019 Starlink satellite launch.

The broadcast of the launch will begin above around 15 minutes prior to the target takeoff time, so at around 8:01 AM EDT (5:01 AM PDT).

SpaceX aborts launch attempt of sixth batch of Starlink satellites due to engine power issue

SpaceX was attempting to launch its sixth batch of Starlink internet broadband satellites, but the launch was aborted when the countdown timer reached zero. On the live feed of the launch, SpaceX engineers were heard to cite a “launch abort on high engine power,” and the announcer presenting the webcast said that it was indeed an abort related to Merlin engine power, and SpaceX later provided added detail, including that the sequence was auto-aborted by its system.

The announcer noted that the “vehicle appears to be in good health,” which SpaceX later confirmed, which should bode well for resetting for another attempt. SpaceX has a backup opportunity on Monday, but the actual next launch attempt is still to be determined, likely as SpaceX investigates and learns more about what exactly was behind the engine power issue and when it makes sense to try again, given conditions on the launch range.

This would’ve been a record fifth flight for the Falcon 9 booster used in this launch, as well as a first re-use of the fairing that protects the cargo. SpaceX has advised that it’ll reveal when it’ll make its net launch attempt once it can confirm those details, and we’ll provide that info once available.

Watch SpaceX launch more Starlink satellites and go for a Falcon 9 re-use record

UPDATE: SpaceX aborted today’s attempt, and will reset for a future attempt at a time and date to be determined.

SpaceX is launching its latest Starlink mission today, with a takeoff time of 9:22 AM EDT (6:22 AM PDT) currently scheduled to take place at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch will carry 60 more Starlink broadband internet satellites to their low Earth orbit destination, using a Falcon 9 rocket with a booster that flew four times previously, including twice in 2018 and twice last year, most recently in November for another Starlink mission.

This launch will include a landing attempt for the Falcon 9 booster, meaning if all goes well SpaceX could recover it for a fifth time for an attempt at refurbishment and re-use. Five flights of a Falcon 9 booster would be a record for SpaceX – and the booster that it’s attempting this mission with is already a record-holder, since it achieved SpaceX’s existing high-water mark for re-use with its last November launch.

The primary mission is to deliver the sixth batch of 60 of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites to space, which will grow the total constellation size to 360. SpaceX plans to begin commercial operation of the constellation later this year if all goes well, providing high-speed, reliable broadband internet to customers in North America, with lower latency and better speeds than are available using existing satellite internet service, which depend on larger, geosynchronous satellites placed much farther out from Earth.

SpaceX will also be aiming to recover the two fairing halves used to protect the satellite cargo on this launch, using two ships stationed at sea that have large nets strung across struts extending from their surface. SpaceX has been attempting these recoveries in order to further increase the reusability (and reduce the cost) of launch but so far it hasn’t had much consistency in its success, catching three fairings in total. The fairing being used today flew before, too – during the May 2019 Starlink satellite launch.

The broadcast of the launch will begin above around 15 minutes prior to the target takeoff time, so at around 8:57 AM EDT (5:57 AM PDT).

Watch SpaceX attempt a rocket reusability record with another Starlink launch live

SpaceX is launching another batch of 60 Starlink satellites to join its existing constellation, which will bring the total to 300 and be the third Starlink launch this year already. The launch will also be a potentially record-setting demonstration of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 reusability, with the shortest turnaround time for a Falcon 9 first stage between its previous mission and its next.

The Falcon 9 booster being used today has already flown three times before, including in May, July and then again in December of 2019. That December flight, which happened on December 16, was only 63 days before today’s launch – while the quickest turnaround to date for a Falcon 9 after flying has been 72 days. SpaceX is using a newer iteration of its rocket that it first introduced in 2018 which is designed to increase its reusability further still vs. earlier versions.

SpaceX can clearly turn these around pretty quickly now and is probably more bound by mission cadence than other factors – this mission was originally set to fly on February 13 but was delayed twice until today.

In addition to the launch, which will also look to deploy the Starlink satellites much earlier than in prior launches of the satellites at around 15 minutes after launch, SpaceX will be looking to recover both the booster and the fairing halves that protect the satellite cargo prior to their release in space. The Falcon 9 booster will return for a landing on SpaceX’s ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ mobile automated seafaring landing pad, while its ‘Ms. Tree’ and ‘Ms. Chief’ ships will try to catch the fairings as they descend via parachute using giant nets suspended above their hulls.

SpaceX has pretty much perfected its booster landing process, but the fairing catch is still very much in the refinement stage. During the last SpaceX Starlink launch, the company caught one half of the protective covers but not the other, bringing its total successful recoveries to a count of three. It’s attempted 12 catches so far, and has also recovered fairings by retrieving them intact from the ocean after a water landing, although that process is more difficult and costly so it’s really hoping to improve the success rate of the net-based catches.

Later this year, SpaceX intends to turn Starlink on, with the constellation then providing broadband internet connectivity to customers in the U.S. and Canada, with a global rollout planned to follow after additional launches.

The broadcast of the launch today will begin roughly 15 minutes prior to liftoff. Liftoff is currently set for 10:05 AM EST (7:05 AM PST), and the livestream should kick off at around 9:50 AM EST (6:50 AM PST).

Watch SpaceX launch 60 more Starlink broadband satellites live

SpaceX is set to launch another batch of its Starlink broadband internet satellites this morning, after weather conditions shut down its last two attempts earlier this week. SpaceX is being especially picky about not just launch conditions – but also weather in the recovery area where it hopes to catch the fairing protecting the satellite cargo aboard this Falcon 9 launch.

That secondary mission of fairing recovery will see SpaceX try to catch the two large halves of the protective sheath that covers the rocket’s payload on its way through Earth’s atmosphere to its orbital destination. It uses ships with custom modifications (which essentially amount to large nets suspended above form their deck) designed specifically for this purpose called ‘Ms. Tree’ and ‘Ms. Chief’ to get this done.

SpaceX has successfully caught one fairing half before, but it hasn’t been able to catch any others yet, and has also never caught both halves at the the same time. This is a goal for the company because it would save them having to rebuild a costly part for each launch, saving as much as $6 million per launch according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk .

Because Starlink is SpaceX’s own payload, to add to its growing constellation of broadband internet small satellites ahead of that service’s launch sometime later this year, SpaceX has more flexibility with the launch timing than it would for a third-party client. That means it can wait a bit to try to optimize recovery conditions to hopefully improve its chances of having a good fairing recovery, with better conditions at sea.

This launch will also include a Falcon 9 booster landing, using SpaceX’s seafaring ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ drone ship. SpaceX is of course pretty consistency able to recover these, with a record of success that continues to grown.

Meanwhile, the primary mission will see yet another batch of 60 satellites join two prior groups (plus a first demonstration flock of 60) already in orbit for Starlink. SpaceX eventually hopes to launch many more (as many as 10,000) which will coordinate to provide affordable, high-speed internet to customers around the world, with a service rollout for the U.S. and Canada planned for later this year.

The launch is scheduled for 9:06 AM EST (6:06 AM PST) and the broadcast above will start at 15 minutes prior to that time. If SpaceX needs to shift the mission again, there’s a backup opportunity on January 30 at 8:45 AM EST (5:45 AM PST).