Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites Global Broadband Internet System

Elon Musk’s SpaceX will provide broadband from its Starlink satellites to US customers from 2020. The California-based company also said it plans to launch six to eight more satellites into space next year to achieve that goal. [Sources: 7]

So what is SpaceX for? It is a way to provide internet broadband to remote areas that don’t currently have access to broadband. According to the UN, that figure currently stands at around a staggering 57% of the World Population.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is betting its legacy on a spaceship capable of carrying hundreds of passengers to Mars. Elon Musk – owner of SpaceX – will provide parts of the US with fast internet for the first time. The news comes just days after Musk announced he had used Starlink broadband to post on Twitter to show the world that the Starlink satellites are actually working. [Sources: 3, 7]

Whilst SpaceX is staking its legacy on the spaceship, the Hawthorne company is also banking on the success of the internet project, which is ambitious in its own right, as it hopes to sell more than 1,000 small satellites that can provide broadband Internet services to pay for the dream of SpaceX’s core mission. The Hawthorn company is banking on its ability to sell the broadband internet service provided by more than 1000 small satellites. The CEO of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell, commented on the hurdles being that of financial and not physical barriers to success. Whilst there are technical issues to overcome, creating a service that can compete with traditional networks is the biggest challenge they face. [Sources: 3]

The aim is to provide affordable internet services to parts of the United States and Canada by the mid-2020s and to install low-cost high-speed broadband connections worldwide, including rural areas that currently lack internet access. Musk mused to reporters about the technological hurdles facing SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, which includes antennas that track the satellites as they move through the sky, and a laser communication system that allows the spacecraft to talk to each other. SpaceX must reduce the cost of sophisticated hardware and software to the point where it can offer fast, reliable Internet services at a price that can compete with cable and fiber services – that is, broadband services that are available – while finding enough underserved and unserved markets to offer them on a large scale. [Sources: 3, 6]

The cost of building and launching the satellites will likely be as high as $10 billion, but it is a business plan that could bring SpaceX billions of dollars in revenue each year. [Sources: 6]

Elon Musk sees it this way: He will help telecommunications companies by fighting hard to get customers off their plates, because SpaceX’s Starlink business will soon offer broadband services. StarLink customers require complex antennas used by user terminals to establish a viable broadband connection in their homes and offices. [Sources: 2, 6]

The Starlink project aims to use low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for high-speed broadband services to remote areas in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. The FCC original licence stipulates that half of the satellites have to be launched within 6 years from the licence approval date. The 4,425 satellites to be launched at an altitude of 1,200KM for the originally planned constellation were given approval in 2018, so 2,213 of these satellites need to be launched by 2024. The current FCC license allows SpaceX to operate 11,924 satellites and the agency has secured a license to launch more than 12,000 satellites into orbit. [Sources: 2, 4]

However, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, said the company had not yet determined the total number of satellites the constellation would require. SpaceX filed a request with the FCC in May 2020 to authorize the operation of a second-generation Starlink, which will consist of more than 30,000 additional satellites in a constellation of up to 60. In October 2019, SpaceX submitted an application to the International Telecommunications Union for the operation of 30,000 additional satellites. The company will be able to increase the StarLink broadband speeds it provides through these additional satellite launches. [Sources: 4]

Elon Musk has suggested that version 2.0 would allow latency times of just 8 milliseconds, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched two additional Starlink satellites with latency of less than 1 millisecond, bringing the total to 300. It is part of a global satellite network designed to provide low-cost broadband internet services in low Earth orbit. [Sources: 4, 7]

The constellation is informally known as Starlink and could reach Canada and the northern US as early as winter 2020. Elon Musk has said at least four more launches will be needed before he can provide basic services to parts of North America in the first half of next year, according to a press release from SpaceX. [Sources: 5, 7]

Elon Musk said in a 2018 interview that StarLInk’s long-term goal is to create a ‘comprehensive global communications system that provides high bandwidth and low latency anywhere in the world.’ [Sources: 5]

Elon Musk has been talking for years about his plans to provide the world with broadband internet access via a constellation of satellites. Starlink, and the first batch of satellites was scheduled to launch in June 2019, the full constellation in the mid-2020s. It was originally intended to provide free terabit Internet services, but now, according to a press release, it will provide terabit Internet services at a cost of about $1.5 billion per year. [Sources: 1]

During the last launch on April 22, a Falcon 9 rocket put 60 satellites into orbit, bringing the total to 420. The company Musk founded to boost space exploration is reluctant to give details. These objects are being orbited by Elon Musk’s private company SpaceX, which promises high-quality internet access from space. [Sources: 0, 1]

The company has received criticisms about the satellites creating light pollution in the night sky and have started to address this by painting them with anti-reflective surfaces. Other concerns include hazards and collisions in the already overcrowded orbital pathway. What happens if the company goes bankrupt and is unable to keep directing these satellites? They effectively become massive items of space junk that could make it harder for other space projects to safely navigate low-orbital space.

A similar plan from fellow tech billionaire Jeff Bezos involves over 3,200 internet-from-space satellites under the name Project Kuiper. It is certainly a fact that over half of the World’s population is without high-speed internet and in the modern age this stifles these people’s ability to move forward. Who will win the internet space race and what other potential problems could arise from such innovations? Please leave your comments below.

Sources:
    
[0]: https://www.euronews.com/2020/04/23/elon-musk-s-starlink-internet-from-space-satellites-leave-astronomers-frustrated
    
[1]: https://www.universetoday.com/140539/spacex-gives-more-details-on-how-their-starlink-internet-service-will-work-less-satellites-lower-orbit-shorter-transmission-times-shorter-lifespans/
    
[2]: https://www.lightreading.com/services/musks-starlink-is-not-some-huge-threat-to-telcos/d/d-id/758092
    
[3]: https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-spacex-starlink-constellation-20190628-story.html
    
[4]: https://www.elonx.net/starlink-compendium/
    
[5]: https://www.canadasatellite.ca/StarLink-Satellite-Internet-Constellation.htm
    
[6]: https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/29/tech/spacex-starlink-satellite-internet-launch-scn/index.html
    
[7]: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-7606311/SpaceX-says-provide-broadband-internet-Starlink-satellites-customers-2020.html