Like many of us you may have laid witness to some bright strings of light shooting across the night sky, Recently shooting stars orchestrated drones, ufos, perhaps while any of those things would be equally as exciting chances are. What you were really seeing was starlink, the satellite constellation being constructed by elon musk and his budding team at spacex.
So what exactly is starlink and why is it projected to bring in around 30 billion dollar of yearly revenue by the year 2025. Simply Starlink is a satellite internet constellation being constructed by spacex elon musk’s famously ambitious aerospace company, A satellite internet constellation or mega constellation as it’s also known is a network of satellites that work together in universe to bring us internet access.
The firm is working towards building a network of 12000 satellites to provide high quality affordable internet to essentially the entire planet. There are currently 420 starlink satellites in orbit today, 300 of which were sent up between january and may of 2020 alone. As for the specs, we’ll only know how starlink’s speed and latency figures stack up against the competition when real world uses it in full swing.
However musk has suggested that the service could reach speeds of up to one gigabit per second with a latency of between 25 and 35 milliseconds, musk being musk has also projected some more ambitious figures saying that his team is aiming for sub 20 millisecond latency initially and plan to reach sub 10 milliseconds over time. A beta testing partnership between the us air force and starlink called global lightning, saw download speeds of 610 megabits per second.
So the estimates might not be all that far fetched, so fast reliable internet low latency must be expensive right? Well not as expensive as you might think, there may be an upfront cost for starlink internet as the system will rely on ground terminals or gateways to bring the internet into your home. Musk says these terminals look like small to medium sized pizzas leading to them.
Being simply known as pizza boxes, each pizza box is estimated to cost anywhere from between 100 to 300 but that’s not being commented officially and it will probably be included in the monthly rental fee anyway. As for that, all-important monthly fee again, there have been no official numbers released however the president of spacex said during an interview “is anybody paying less than 80 bucks a month for crappy service? nope that’s why we’re going gonna be successful”.
This has pointed many forward thinking that the service will cost around eighty dollars and maybe even a little less comparatively a 12 to 100 megabit per second internet plan from viasat cost between 30 and 150 per month and a 25 megabit plan from hughesnet ranges from around 60 to 150 per month. 80 dollars per month for starlink with internet speeds potentially reaching one gigabit per second sounds rather competitive to me.
Musk started starlink as a spacex spin-off in order to fund his intergalactic exploration dreams of one day making it to mars. Seeing as he was already in the business of sending stuff to space capturing a significant portion of the estimated 1 trillion worldwide internet connectivity market, seemed like a pretty good place to start in 2015. Musk stated that he’d filed documents to place around 4000 satellites into low earth orbit, however this number quickly turned into 12000 and he may eventually be granted permission to send up as many as 30000 to put that into perspective.
According to the united nations office for outer space affairs only 9000 artificial satellites have ever been launched into space and just 2000 remain to this day. So why does musk need so many of these styling satellites and how do they work? In the first place for starters, most of us tend to think of all satellites as being these great big pieces of engineering with two giant solar panels sticking out to either end starling satellites are in fact relatively small. They weigh 500 pounds around the same size as a tabletop and feature just one solar panel.
Krypton-powered iron thrusters allow the satellites to adjust their orbit while in use and de-orbit when they reach the end of their working life. The satellites also have the ability to autonomously avoid space debris. Spacex claims that their styling satellites are the first ever krypton propelled spacecraft, which is said to be the future of space propulsion. The starlink system works by internet signals being communicated up to any starling satellite, being spread out throughout the network and then being fired back down to any point on earth.
The process works in a somewhat similar way to traditional internet satellites in which a signal is sent from the internet service provider to the satellite in orbit and is then triangulated back down to the receiver. However in the starlink system, the signal is sent from the internet service provider to one starling satellite which then sends the signal to one of the four other satellites. It’s connected to the signal is passed along the network at the speed of light until it reaches the optimum satellite.
For sending the signal down to the receiver, this process reduces latency or lag significantly over long distances. Each starlink satellite is equipped with four incredibly powerful phased array antennas with each being capable of handling an enormous amount of radio wave throughout. This facilitates a very efficient transfer of information and essentially very fast internet speeds delivering the internet via satellite. It is so much more efficient than by wire because the signal travels 47 percent faster as a wave through the vacuum of space than it does traveling along a fiber optic cable.
Fiber optic internet will remain faster over short distances but over longer ranges there will be no comparison. Starlink will also be able to provide such reliable and fast internet because of where they are being placed in orbit. Current internet satellites orbited around 35,800 kilometers above the earth. which is really far away. so the coverage area the satellite is great but the distance also results in a time delay between sending and receiving data.
Starlink satellites orbit significantly closer at around 550 kilometers above the earth’s surface, this means that they triangulate data much faster with minimal delay but also means that their coverage area is far smaller so we need a load more of them to build up a comprehensive network, that offers reliable global coverage. Now i’m sure, many of you are expecting a catch but there really isn’t one unless you’re a stargazer.
That is after the first launch of 60 starlinks went up in may 2018 and the second batch in november astronomers immediately complained about how bright the satellite chains were and how the light pollution was compromising their observations. Researchers have expressed concerns about future images of outer space being negatively affected by the styling constellation.
Radio astronomers are also expecting to encounter interference from starlink’s radio based antennas, spacex received even more backlash in late 2019 when the european space agency announced that they had to undertake evasive maneuvers with one of their satellites to avoid crashing into starlink 44, one of the first 60 satellites in the mega constellation. Spacex has expressed that they are working with many agencies and space organizations to mitigate any potential issues and they are also actively working towards a number of solutions to make their satellites less visible.
Spacex has already come up with a darkening treatment to lessen the satellite’s reflectivity, which is a technology that will be applied to all new styling satellites. They’ve stated that as the constellation grows, they’ll be able to move them further out into orbit making them far less visible to earth and less likely to come into the path of other low orbiting satellites. Both moves are definitely a step in the right direction but that doesn’t exactly get rid of the problem, so advocates are calling for greater regulations from government agencies to force the company’s hand so to speak the enormous benefits of global internet coverage are undoubtedly going to outweigh the cost to astronomers.
So it’s unlikely that musk is even a little bit worried about these so-called advocates interfering with his plans. However it’s not exactly his style to just bulldozer over other people’s business, so i’m sure that spacex will continue to work towards reducing their impact on other people’s industries. Starlink is set to start offering services in the northern us and canada by late 2020 and expects to offer near global coverage of the populated world by the year 2022. These dates are just around the corner making starlink’s estimated yearly revenue of 30 billion by 2025 seem even more mind-boggling.
However if you take into consideration, that internet access is said to be a one trillion dollar industry. Starlink has only to capture three percent of that market to hit those figures. As it stands spacex’s annual revenue is just a fraction of that number at two billion dollars and musk says that number could only really stretch to three billion if they continue down the same path. The huge influx in revenue starlink might and most probably will break in will open up a whole new world of possibilities to spacex, not to mention speed up their ever increasing rate of development within the aerospace technology sector. Musk’s plans to get people to mars by 2050 might be a possibility after all.