Starlink had its maiden launch on 22 February 2018 and is resolved to bring satellite internet to the entire planet, including the more than 3 billion people who are currently deprived of internet connection (roughly half the world population). it’s a satellite internet constellation operated by SpaceX that is currently in its beta stage, operative in 14 countries. Development started in 2015 and currently launches 60 satellites at a time. The project is aiming to launch its global or nearly global internet service between late 2021 and early 2022. SpaceX also signed agreements with Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform to connect the service with their cloud computing networks.
Many people with no access to home internet service rely on mobile internet service operators providing 4G or 5G signal, a very expensive alternative that offers no real solution in the long term. Starlink is designed to work around this handicap to bring high-speed internet at lower costs. Its “Better than Nothing Beta” plan, launched in October 2020, currently charges a one-time fee of $499 for the user terminal and $99 a month for unlimited data service (although it has its expected periodic outages).
By contrast, a gigabit of data costs around $27 in countries like Benin or Malawi, around 40% of their average monthly wage. During the beta testing, users reported download speeds that ranged from 11 Mbit/s to 60 Mb/s, while upload speeds oscillated from 5 to 18 Mbit/s. Over the next months, download speed is expected to reach up to 150 Mbps, with a maximum latency of 40 ms.
SpaceX’s Starlink Internet network is linked to flat terminals with phased array antennas to track the satellites. These terminals, which have roughly the size of a pizza box, can be installed at any point in a structure, building, or moving vehicle, but will only work in spots where the sky is visible. According to Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, the terminals automatically adjust optimal angles to scan the sky. The antenna contained in the terminals is jokingly nicknamed “Dishy McFlatface”.
The constellation comprised over 1,600 satellites by mid-2021, and it’s calculated to have many thousands of mass-produced small satellites that will operate on low Earth orbit (LEO) in the near future. The internet communication satellites were initially smallsat-class with a mass of 100 to 500 kg and were supposed to orbit the Earth at an altitude of 1,100 km, but by 2019 they were lowered to 227 kg. and set at an altitude of 550 km.
The project’s initial launches were not devoid of criticism. Various concerns were raised by numerous organizations such as the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the International Astronomical Union, and Square Kilometre Array Organization, touching on the brightness of the satellites and the potential light pollution they might cause.
In April 2020, SpaceX wrote to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), announcing that they would test methods to reduce light pollution. One of the features included in the newly-manufactured satellites was a sunshade, which reduced light emission by around 70%.
Other criticisms posited the danger of space debris caused by a possible satellite collision. SpaceX replied to this by stating that the low altitude will allow the faulty satellites to deorbit naturally and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
>> See the official Starlink website for more information
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