Surely we all know Elon Musk. The South African, creator of Tesla, Paypal and SpaceX, companies that have made significant advances in electric vehicles, and lately commercial space travel — remember that a few weeks ago, SpaceX became the first private company to send people into space -, now plans to establish in the rest of the year and 2021, a global network of satellites to send internet signal to the most remote places on the planet, called Starlink. But first…
…a bit of history
The opening of the facilities to build the new communications network was announced in January 2015. The initial hiring of sixty engineers and another thousand workers was planned in the following years.
Development began in 2015, and the first satellite prototypes were launched on February 22, 2018. The launch of the first 60 satellites took place on May 23, 2019, and the start of commercial operations of the constellation is expected to begin in 2020. The research and development of the project takes place at SpaceX’s facilities located in Redmond, Washington.
In November 2018, SpaceX received approval from the U.S. To deploy 7,518 broadband satellites, in addition to the 4,425 satellites that had been previously approved. SpaceX’s initial 4,425 satellites are expected to orbit altitudes between 1,110 and 1,325 km, well above the International Space Station. The new approval is for the proposal to add a very low Earth orbit constellation (VLEO) of non-geostationary satellites, consisting of 7,518 satellites that will operate at altitudes between 335 and 346 km. Also in November, SpaceX made regulatory submissions to the FCC. to request the modification of its previously granted license, to operate approximately 1,500 of the 4,425 approved satellites, in a new 550 km orbit instead of the original 1,150.
How it works
The Starlink system is based on the propagation of electromagnetic waves through vacuum, where they achieve a speed much higher than any terrestrial connection by fiber optics.
The secret to the success of the constellation of Starlink satellites is the height at which their satellites will orbit. Current satellite internet systems are located in orbits located 35,000 kilometers away and the delay is so great that the network only serves for some not very demanding connections.
To connect to Musk’s satellite internet we will simply have to have the Starlink Terminal V1 antenna, which will be provided by SpaceX and will be automatically adjusted according to Starlink’s position.
What satellites are like?
Internet communication satellites are expected to be of small class, between 100 and 500 kg of mass, which were initially destined to be in low orbit at an altitude of approximately 1,100 kilometers. However, SpaceX eventually decided to keep the satellites at a relatively lower level, at 550 kilometers, due to concerns about space pollution. Initial plans from January 2015 were that the constellation would be composed of approximately 4000 satellites, more than double the total number of operational satellites that were in orbit as of January 2015.
Satellites would be mass-produced, at a much lower cost per unit of capacity than existing satellites. Musk said: “We will try to do for the satellites what we have done for the rockets.” To revolutionize space, we have to take care of both satellites and rockets.” “Smaller satellites are crucial to reducing the cost of the Internet and space-based communications.”
It is planned to launch Starlink satellites on the Starship, a SpaceX vehicle in development, which would allow 400 satellites to be launched at a time.
Internet on other planets?
In the long term, SpaceX intends to develop and implement a version of the satellite communication system to be used on Mars. In the medium term, the company expects Starlink to generate revenues that would be useful to finance the Mars transport project.
Starlink is not the only one, although it is far ahead…
On October 22, 2019, Elon Musk, from his Twitter account, announced through a tweet launched from his own Starlink network, that the first test had been a success. A first step that demonstrates the firm commitment of the company to its particular constellation of satellites. Something similar, but much less mediatic, are the projects that Facebook and Google have carried out or are carrying out.
Facebook with its Aquila project aimed to manufacture and use drones in the stratosphere to provide internet connection to remote areas of the world. Project that was sent to the trash to start working hand in hand with the manufacturer Airbus. Little more is known since their plans were canceled in 2018.
Google’s bet is aimed at using balloons to deploy an internet network in remote places. Unlike Facebook, Google has managed to commercially exploit its Loon project in Kenya. In addition, he deployed some of his balloons in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017 that destroyed part of the country’s connectivity infrastructure.
The constellation has already caused some disagreements with scientists and astronomers because the brightness of satellites makes it difficult to see the sky. And it’s just the beginning. When the project ends, the constellation will be composed of more elements than all the objects launched so far by humanity. Elon Musk always thinks big and his latest successes only reaffirm his plans.
As usual at Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, he has revealed details of the project by responding to users on Twitter. According to him, the private beta of the Starlink internet is scheduled for three months and in about six months the public beta. It will begin with high latitudes, although it has not been specified which countries enter these high latitudes, it did comment last year that part of the United States will have the service, it is understood that the northern part of the country.