Elon Musk’s satellite Internet service Starlink has reportedly shipped 1,00,000 terminals to customers as part of SpaceX’s project to provide global broadband connectivity via constellation satellites.
“100k terminals shipped!” announced Elon Musk via his twitter handle which was retweeted by SpaceX’s twitter account on August 24. He also made a series of tweets where he mentioned the countries that Starlink is serving at present. “Our license applications are pending in many more countries. Hoping to serve Earth soon!” he added in another tweet.
What are Starlink satellites?
The American aerospace manufacturer, space transportation services and communications company’s satellites are over 60 times closer to Earth than traditional satellites. This results in lower latency and the ability to support services typically not possible with traditional satellite internet. Latency is the time it takes to send data from one point to the next. When satellites are far from Earth, latency is high, resulting in poor performance for activities like video calls and online gaming.
Starlink is now delivering initial beta service both domestically and internationally, and will continue expansion to near global coverage of the populated world in a year or two.
Starlink’s beta programme
Starlink commenced launching satellites in November 2019 and opened a beta programme for select customers in 2020, at $99 per month. The company has launched over 1,700 satellites, shipped 1,00,000 terminals and received well over 5 lakh additional orders for the service.
During beta, users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations over the next several months as they enhance the Starlink system, according to the information available on Starlink’s official website. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all, but as they launch more satellites, install more ground stations and improve their networking software, data speed, latency and uptime will improve dramatically.
Most of Starlink’s beta customers are said to be from rural and remote areas where conventional broadband has not yet penetrated. They have plans to launch around 30,000 satellites into the Earth’s orbit to cater to millions of customers. Starlink’s customers pay $499 for the service which includes a starter kit to get them off ground, Wi-Fi router, power supply, cables and a mounting tripod.
Guardians of the night sky
Starlink teams appear to be working closely with leading astronomers around the world to better understand the specifics of their observations and engineer changes that they can make to reduce satellite brightness.
The apparent magnitude of an object is a measure of the brightness of a star or object observed from Earth. It is a reverse logarithmic scale, so higher numbers correspond to dimmer objects. A star of magnitude 3 is approximately 2.5 times brighter than a star of magnitude 4.
Based on observations that have been taken by their team and by members of the astronomical community, current Starlink satellites have an average apparent magnitude of 5.5 when on-station and brighter during orbit raise. Objects up to about magnitude 6.5-7 are visible to the naked eye, and their goal is for Starlink satellites to be magnitude 7 or better for almost all phases of their mission.
Space junk and near-crashes
With over 1,700 satellites shipped, these constellation satellites aimed at providing internet connectivity are said to be ‘crowding’ space and reportedly creating a hazardous environment for other satellites.
According to a research undertaken by University of Southampton’s Astronautics Research Group, headed by Hugh Lewis, Starlink near-misses happen 1,600 times every week. A near-miss would ideally refer to two satellites passing within a distance of almost a kilometre from each other.
SpaceX also recently submitted an application to the Federal Communication Commission, an independent agency of the government of United States, on August 18, proposing two separate configurations for constellation satellites, one of which would use its next-gen Starship heavy-lift rocket for its next generation Starlink system.
Further, the company proposed an alternate configuration using its Falcon 9 rocket, the obvious advantage of the Starship being its massive-size payload capacity. Falcon 9 is the first orbital class rocket which is capable of reflight. The static fire test for this was also just recently completed on Thursday for launch of Dragon’s 23rd cargo resupply mission to the international space station.
“Save the date: @NASA & @SpaceX are targeting Aug. 28 at 3:37am ET for the 23rd cargo resupply mission to the @Space_Station! SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will deliver a variety of science investigations, materials & supplies to the orbiting laboratory, tweeted NASA’s Kennedy Spacestation announcing the same on August 16.
The Dragon spacecraft is capable of carrying up to 7 passengers to and from Earth orbit, and beyond. It is the only spacecraft currently flying that is capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth, and is the first private spacecraft to take humans to the international space station.
Laser terminals, or laser crosslinks, were added to a batch of Starlink satellites in January 2021. These links allow satellites to transfer information to one another and communicate in other ways as well. The satellite internet service provider has reportedly held back their launch to integrate laser terminals with all Starlink satellites which is what led the six to eight week pause.
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