SpaceX said 57 of the 60 Starlink v0.9 internet satellites launched May 23 remain “alive” and are poised to undergo testing before being activated. These will be the first of nearly 12,000 similar satellites in the gigantic Starlink megaconstellation.

The company said three Starlink small satellites malfunctioned and can’t be reached from the ground. These derelict satellites will be left to orbit aimlessly until the Earth's gravity plucks them out of orbit and ends their lives in fiery destruction as they re-enter the atmosphere. This process might take as long as five years, however.

SpaceX said two other Starlink satellites will be commanded to intentionally “kill” themselves on re-entry to "simulate an end of life disposal."

The loss of some satellites was foreseen, nevertheless.

“It’s possible that some of these satellites may not work, and in fact [there’s a] small possibility that all of the satellites will not work,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk a few days after the first 60 were orbited by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

“But these are a great design and we’ve done everything we can to maximize probability of success.”

SpaceX will soon test "latency and capacity by streaming videos and playing some high bandwidth video games” of the 55 surviving Starlink satellites. It said it will test the in-orbit Starlink satellites using ground antennas in North America.

Musk last week said Starlink will offer a competitively priced alternative for people who would be unhappy with their current internet service.

In early June, SpaceX first said the 60 satellites launched into low Earth orbit (LEO) had powered up and contacted ground stations. Most of these small satellites (smallsats), which each weigh some 227 kg, have climbed from their current 440 km altitude drop-off point to their 550 km target orbit.

"All 60 satellites have deployed their solar arrays successfully, generated positive power and communicated with our ground stations," said SpaceX at the time.

These 60 satellites are part of phase 1, or the first orbital shell, where 1,600 satellites will be deployed at an altitude of 550 km. SpaceX eventually plans to deploy close to 12,000 Starlink satellites in three orbital shells by the mid-2020s.

More than 2,800 Ku- and Ka-band spectrum Starlink satellites will be orbited at an altitude of 1,150 km (710 miles) in orbital shell 2. More than 7,500 V-band Starlink satellites in orbital shell 3 will be located at an altitude of 340 km (210 miles).

Starlink satellite cluster aboard a Falcon 9
A few of the 60 Starlink satellites before deployment into LEO SpaceX

Total cost of the decade-long project to design, build and deploy this mammoth constellation is estimated at over $10 billion and questions are being raised if SpaceX has enough money to see this ambitious project through.

SpaceX said Starlink will become fully operational once 800 satellites are activated. Reaching this number will need a dozen more launches aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicles.

“SpaceX continues to monitor the constellation for any satellites that may need to be safely deorbited,” said a SpaceX spokesperson. “All the satellites have maneuvering capability and are programmed to avoid each other and other objects in orbit by a wide margin.”