Starlink will be the most powerful and accessible Internet provider in the world in a few years. At least that is the idea of the SpaceX company and its owner Elon Musk, the South African businessman and physicist who is reaping unprecedented successes and records in the US aerospace career with nothing less than a private company.
Index of contents
- What is Starlink
- Satellite Specifications
- The purposes of Starlink
- How the mega constellation Starlink is created
- Starlink availability and speed
- Other SpaceX projects
- Conclusions and future of Starlink
We will tell you what the Starlink network is, what the future of the Internet holds with them and the first speed tests that experimental users have carried out. A network that undoubtedly promises, due to its versatility, accessibility and the lack of use of cables when operating entirely by satellites.
What is Starlink
Starlink is a project that was born in the aerospace vehicle company SpaceX, with the aim of creating a constellation of low-orbit satellites to provide Internet service throughout the world. This service must be characterized by being broadband, around 1 Gbps download, and low latency between 7 and 30 ms to compete directly with fiber optics.
The development of these satellites began in 2015, obtaining the legal requirements for launches in 2017, and in 2018 the authorization of the United States government. In this way, the constellation began to take shape on May 23, 2019 when the first 60 Starlink version 0.9 satellites were launched into space.
SpaceX plans to create a constellation of no less than 12,000 satellites by approximately 2025, gradually increasing it to over 20,000 in the next few years. This would form what would become the largest constellation of satellites ever created on the planet.
Each unit has a geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of 550 km and around the Earth using a frequency band Ku (Kurz-unten band) between 12 and 18 GHz and Ka between 26.5 and 40 GHz. The weight per unit is about 260 kg with a compact design that allows it to be launched in groups of 60 satellites or alongside other proprietary satellites.
The satellites that are currently being launched are version 1.0, which have their own propulsion system to deorbit when their useful life ends, which is a small advantage when operating in orbits so close to the earth. This life is estimated to be a maximum of 5 years according to the company. The truth is that when there are 12,000 satellites operating, maintenance is going to be a headache.
Each unit is made up of a flat-design body and an extendable solar panel panel once it enters orbit. To this are added 4 powerful antennas with which large amounts of data are redirected to reach the speeds that are intended. Due to complaints from the space exploration community about the ” dirtiness of the night sky ” caused by so many satellites, they have an anti-reflective light panel to make them invisible.
The purposes of Starlink
Obviously the Starlink network was born with the main objective of providing broadband Internet connection to any geographical area in the world. One of the main problems encountered by many citizens of Canada and the United States is their inability to have the Internet because they live in very remote rural places.
To this are added many more difficult-to-reach areas of the planet, for example, the Himalayas, Greenland or the Sahara. All this would be perfectly visible by the Starlink constellation, thus being potential customers absolutely the entire world population. And the truth is that if the speeds comply and it is presented with competitive prices as Musk intends, it could be a success contrary to what the expert critics mention.
But if something characterizes this visionary, inventor and entrepreneur, it is his initiative and eagerness to explore. Recall that SpaceX was born with the purpose of privatizing space launches and being self-sufficient in the race to reach Mars in the coming decades. Therefore, Starlink will be a project to finance the expenses of research and development of space vehicles for the maintenance of the network itself and for the arrival on the red planet.
And it does not stop here, because Musk’s madness goes a little further and in the long term he intends to develop and create another version of Starlink as a satellite communication system with Mars. We hope that they are also studying how to mitigate the adverse effects caused by radiation from the red planet in humans, otherwise we are going badly.
To cover all these expenses, SpaceX also uses multimillion-dollar contracts that the company makes to put other third-party satellites into orbit, for example, the government of the United States, Europe and any other country. In addition, this year it has started sending astronauts to the ISS (Space Station) aboard the Dragon capsule.
How the mega constellation Starlink is created
None of this would be possible if an impulse system capable of carrying the satellites into this 550 km orbit and ridding itself of Earth’s gravity. For this, the Starlink satellites use the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the company’s flagship with the permission of the Falcon Heavy, which would be three Falcon 9 busters instead of just one.
The Falcon 9 is a two-stage orbital rocket equipped with 9 Merlin engines running on RP-1 kerosene and liquid oxygen, making it the most powerful rocket in the world for its thrust force. In its single-buster version, it is capable of carrying a total of 22,800 kg into low orbit. Therefore, it is capable of loading 60 Starlink satellites simultaneously, leaving a percentage of free load for greater safety and due to space limits in the cargo capsule.
But its biggest advantage over the competition is that its first stage is reusable, thus being the first manufacturer capable of reusing its rockets. This fact has been key in the space battle with other companies such as ULA, NASA’s Atlas rockets or the Russian Soyuz, since it saves enormous manufacturing costs.
On the Starlink-10 mission of August 18, 2020, for example, SpaceX flew a first stage for the sixth time, a historic milestone for never having managed to bring an intact rocket to land so many times. Although more than on land, the Falcon 9 lands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a barge that awaits it at the exact point of arrival more than 600 km from the east coast of the United States. The launches are streamed live from the company website or YouTube, and are worth watching.
Without straying too far from the subject, the Starlink satellites travel inside a capsule in a maximum number of 60 units, all placed in the form of a tower to separate simultaneously once the orbit and the point of separation with the second stage are reached. The missions intend to place a total of 7,518 satellites spread over 83 orbital planes at distances between them of 1,100 and 1,325 kilometers, and for this it is necessary to reach a slightly higher speed of 27,000 km / h, imagine the power of this rocket.
As we have already mentioned before, these satellites are often accompanied by other “stowaways” satellites whose manufacturers have paid for their launch into orbit. This is an important way to finance yourself since each launch makes some profit or at least covers costs. In order not to exceed the maximum weight, the manufacturer usually withdraws a certain number of Starlink to make way for these other satellites.
In the month of August 2020 there are already more than 500 satellites in orbit, although events such as the pandemic, bad weather and others, little by little delay the different missions.
It is curious to release that large number of satellites simultaneously in space, which will cause the so-called train of satellites or Starlink train. In it, for several days after being put into orbit, the satellites go in a row one after another at a close distance, being visible from certain points on the globe depending on the orbit chosen.
Some Portals also explain to us how to see this famous and spectacular Starlink train from our location. It is worth it that you take a look and keep an eye on the day of the launches so as not to miss this artificial phenomenon soaring through the skies. For this, there are many Android applications for Smartphone that tell you how and when they pass through your area so that you are prepared. These are concentrated for now in the northern hemisphere coinciding with the US, Canada and Europe.
Starlink availability and speed
The large presence of satellites flying through space has allowed users in certain areas of the US and Canada to be able to test the service in beta. By no means is it a final commercialization phase, this is still a bit far away.
Any of us can subscribe to the Starlink portal for SpaceX to notify us when there will be availability at our location. It is assumed that in 2021 it will already be available for areas other than North America.
After subscribing on the web, users who have access and wish to participate in the testing phase will receive an antenna at home. To put it into use, they will be as simple as connecting it to the current and directing it towards the sky, since it is self- steering and looks for satellites on its own.
There are already more than 700,000 registered users of the SpaceX update newsletter, so the service, for now at least, has a lot of hype.
Speed and latency Starlink testing phase
We take advantage of the creation of this article because the first data on the benefits of the Starlink network for a certain number of users who are in beta phase have already been published. The truth is that the values are not bad at a still early stage for the service.
In the first figures that the network is showing in the Seattle and Los Angeles area, the speeds are 50 Mbps for the download and around 10 Mbps for the upload. These are not exactly the results promised at first, but we must understand that the fleet of satellites is still scarce in terms of proximity to each other.
With more than 200 tests carried out in different parts of the United States, the figures they are delivering are between 11 and 60 Mbps of download with an average of around 30 Mbps, while the download ranges from 5 to 18 Mbps with an average of 6 Mbps. It is undoubtedly a speed suitable for consuming high definition multimedia content and relatively fast downloads at the level of other satellite services, taking into account that this network is still in its initial phase.
The latencies do look very good, and they are below 30 ms without much problem. The figures vary between 25 and 100 ms depending on the area and the situation of the satellites with an average of about 40 to 50 ms. As before, with the presence of more satellites, the values will improve even more. With these figures at least, we are at the level of current 4G connectivity, being able to consume Full HD streaming content without delays and play online without difficulties.
In short, the starting point is not bad at all, and Starlink does not have too many problems in matching the speeds of 4G, so adding another 4,000 or 5,000 satellites to the constellation, the improvements must be a scandal.
Other SpaceX projects
Elon Musk’s aspirations do not stop here, the owner of the most valuable car brand of 2020, Tesla, has as its main objective to conquer Mars before anyone else, taking the first astronauts there.
To do this, he is advancing quite quickly in the Starship project, the new super heavy space vehicle with which he intends to reach the red planet. Their progress can be seen on multiple live online broadcasts on YouTube such as LabPadre’s. The area destined for the assembly and the space shuttle will be Boca Chica –Texas.
SpaceX plans to create a 100% reusable capsule-type ship with three stages of propulsion that will add up to a larger size than the Saturn V rocket that took us to the Moon. In addition, it plans to create other versions for ultra-fast heavy transport between different areas of the planet as an option to ships and airplanes. Undoubtedly, the expectation is great and the future exciting, but being a private company, it needs to earn its own livelihood to pay for the projects. In principle Tesla is a totally independent company despite being the same owner, and it does not supply money to SpaceX.
Another project that appeared recently within his other company Neuralink is a chip that is implanted on the surface of the skull. With it, we can feel like the “augments” of Deus Ex, making possible functions such as controlling the lights at home, entering Netflix, starting a Tesla and according to him, keeping memories inside.
Neuralink is already testing human beings, whose chip will be implanted by a robot in a painless process and with the possibility of removing it without side effects. This would have a battery that is magnetically charged with autonomy for one day. We hope this doesn’t get too hot and the chip isn’t hackable.
Conclusions and future of Starlink
SpaceX and the creativity of Elon Musk is marked a before and after in aerospace science and technology, and may become one of the most important icons of this century. If your Starlink constellation delivers the expected results and achieves positive viability, you could have billions of users connected to your network in a matter of a few years. Of course I would be one of those clients if the forecasts more or less are fulfilled.
The service is in the initial phases, and if all goes well, available in areas other than North America in 2021, and fully operational in 2025. It remains to be seen what rates the company will set and if there will be a limit on the volume of traffic, which is said to be up to 2 TB.
For the sake of our natural inclination for exploration as human beings, we hope that Starlink will be a success, even if the Starship project takes some crazy people to Mars and makes intercontinental travel in a matter of minutes.
Despite being a different company by normal standards, SpaceX also has tough competitors. For example, OneWeb is another British satellite telecommunications company that has 34 medium-orbiting satellites launched by the Russian Soyuz rocket, and plans to increase the network to 650 units. On the other hand, it seems another tough competitor such as Blue Origin in space travel, still far from the achievements of SpaceX, but also working on reusable rockets and with an extremely powerful investor such as Amazon.
The competition is served, and if something is clear, it is that in 40 years the world will not resemble the one we know today. Now we leave you with some interesting links.