Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, plans to put a total of 12000 satellites into low Earth Orbit. These satellites are supposed to offer low latency, high speed, and cheap internet access to every human on the planet.
This is what the company is calling Starlink.
But before we expand on Starlink, you should first understand what the space internet is.
In Layman’s terms, space internet is internet access that is powered by satellites. This is not a new concept. There are many telecommunications satellites in a geostationary orbit several miles over the equator rotation in the direction of the Earth.
Hence, these satellites seem to remain static, and they serve a specific region. Also, the distance between these satellites and the earth provides at least a one-second lag. But, accessing the internet through the available satellites is limited.
Also, trying to increase the speed of data on these satellites is expensive. Thus, they are mostly meant to serve governments or companies that require critical links in remote regions.
SpaceX and the Space Internet
When launched, the Starlink satellites should be closer to the earth 65 times more than these geostationary satellites. They will also be faster since they will offer 10Gbps speeds. This is faster than fiber optic internet.
Additionally, by undercutting the land-based networks and providing internet speeds of 10 Gbps, SpaceX will become a massive internet provider. Besides, there are 50 percent of humans that still have no access to the internet.
One other motivation for SpaceX to launch Starlink is the potential it has to make profits. The cost of the Starlink is expected to be over 10 billion US dollars. The earnings are projected to be about 30 billion US dollars every year by the year 2025.
Starlink already made the first launch on May 23rd, 2019. A Falcon 9 reusable rocket was launched into the sky. The rocket was loaded with 60 of the flat-packed 500 pounds each satellite.
How Will Starlink Work
Each of the 12000 satellites will talk to four others through lasers as they orbit the Earth. The web made by all the satellites will then create Ka-band and Ku-band broadband connectivity. The connectivity is believed to provide internet speed that is as fast as the speed of light.
This internet speed will also surround the world every minute, making sure that the internet covers all the locations and regions. To receive Starlink, you will be required to use a 200 dollar receiver that is the size of a pizza box.
SpaceX is also using a massive network of ground-based stations to ensure that the connectivity beams to the surface. This proves that the 12000 satellites are a fraction of the infrastructure that SpaceX is required to build for the project to be successful.
This is why Starlink is planned to happen in phases. Nevertheless, the overall plan is to ensure that 8000 satellites are orbiting above the planet at a 500km distance. The rest of the satellites, 4000 in total, will be placed higher at around 1200km above the planet.
SpaceX plans to place all the 12000 satellites by the year 2027. They should also be fully operational. The money that will be made from Starlink will be used by SpaceX to create starship systems that will send settlers to Mars.
Challenges Facing Starlink
However, some problems are expected to happen. For instance, sending 12000 satellites into space is expected to increase the amount of space debris. The satellites are also likely to malfunction or get hit by debris.
This could result in a chain reaction that would generate massive operational problems. To solve this problem, the company is building satellites that can track orbital debris and ultimately avoid a collision.
Another challenge that Starlink will face is the burning of components that are bound to occur in the Earth’s atmosphere. This usually happens every five years. Thus, Starlink will have to launch new satellites every five years, which amount to approximately 200 satellites each month.
Also, the Falcon 9 rockets are required to take off every week at least once if Starlink is to continue its operations. All these satellites mean that the expense SpaceX will incur is massive. One solution that SpaceX can adopt is expanding the capacity of the carrier craft.
To make the project feasible in the long term, the company might also need to reduce the launch expenses. Another challenge that the project will face is concerning the network capacity and the load of each satellite.
One satellite can cater to 1000 users that are streaming a 4k video at the same time. This means that if an area is a dense populated, there is bound to be a strain on the network. Overall, this could affect the connectivity of the satellites.
Nevertheless, satellite broadband and space internet is becoming the future of the world. That is why while Starlink is very ambiguous, it is not the only company looking to launch internet satellites in space. One such company is Amazon.