Today, SpaceX has taken the first step in implementing Elon Musk’s newest program, Starlink. This program plans to launch a total of 12,000 satellites into low orbit over several years. The purpose of these satellites is to provide a low-cost alternative to ground-based internet connections. Once enough of these satellites enter low orbit, they will link together, creating a massive broadband network. This will provide high-speed internet to even the most isolated locations on Earth. Musk believes there’s a significant market for SpaceX’s satellite internet. Especially in developing countries where access to the web is either too expensive or non-existant.
The Starlink Project
One of the key differences between Starlink and current satellite internet providers (such as Viasat) is the way in which they orbit the Earth. All current internet satellites operate in geostationary orbit, which is roughly 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. While this allows each individual satellite to cover a wide area, the distance also creates high levels of latency. So if you’re trying to FaceTime or watch Netflix, you will experience heavy delays and choppy video. Starlink’s network on the other hand, will operate from low orbit (about 800 miles above Earth) resulting in far less latency. This allows bandwidth intensive tasks, such as online gaming, to be useable over the network.
While low orbiting satellites have some pretty significant advantages, there are a few drawbacks as well. For one, low orbiting satellites can only cover a fraction of the area high orbiting satellites can. This means SpaceX will need to launch far more satellites into orbit if they want to provide complete coverage around the world. In addition to this, low orbiting satellites need to be in constant motion, while high orbiting satellites can remain stationary. As you can probably tell, keeping track of 12,000 constantly moving satellites will not be an easy task.
What To Expect In The Future
While SpaceX has certainly received the most coverage, it’s not the only company looking to offer high-speed satellite internet. A company by the name of Oneweb is hoping to have it’s own constellation of broadband satellites up and running in the next few years. However, with the success of today’s SpaceX launch, it seems Musk’s company is lightyears ahead. And this is only the first of many SpaceX test flights scheduled to launch this year. Looking forward, the preliminary network of SpaceX satellites should be operational in 2019-2020. With the last of the planned 12,000 satellites expected to launch sometime in 2025, the network will be complete.
What do you think of SpaceX’s Starlink program? Would you be willing to try out satellite internet in your own home? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
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