SpaceX has listed its first job openings for the Starlink satellite constellation

Last year, SpaceX launched many satellites, but two were of immense importance when it comes to broadband internet: Tintin A and Tintin B. They are …

Last year, SpaceX launched many satellites, but two were of immense importance when it comes to broadband internet: Tintin A and Tintin B. They are test satellites for the company’s upcoming Starlink Constellation, a worldwide data network that would not just blanket the world in WiFi, but also help fund future SpaceX projects.

The Tintin satellites never reached operational orbit. Despite that, Elon Musk has tweeted that TinTin A & B are in the sky and showing latency low enough “to play fast response video games.”

So is Starlink really going to happen?

According to hiring data that we track at SpaceX, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” That’s because SpaceX has begun hiring a team for Starlink, marking what appears to be the first time it’s publicly mentioned Starlink in its job titles.

The job titles — although less than a dozen openings — paint a small but diverse team of network engineers, product designers, electrical engineers, and reliability professionals. They’re spread throughout SpaceX’s two major development facilities: the Hawthorne headquarters and Redmond technology hub.

As Of Date

Title

City

20190310

Build Reliability Engineer, Starlink

Redmond

20190310

Network Engineer (Starlink)

Redmond

20190310

Product Design Engineer (Starlink User Terminal)

Hawthorne

20190310

Manufacturing Development Engineer (Starlink User Terminal)

Hawthorne

20190310

Software Engineer (Starlink)

Redmond

20190310

Lead Electrical Engineer (Starlink User Terminal)

Hawthorne

20190310

Electrical Engineer(Starlink User Terminal)

Hawthorne

We won’t venture to guess what this means in terms of a Starlink launch date, but the newly created jobs bode well for the orbit-based broadband network. We’ll keep our eyes on the data.

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SpaceX Satellite Network Faces Canadian Competition

SpaceX’s Starlink constellation has Canadian competition. Satellite communications firm Telesat is working on its own low-Earth orbit constellation …

Abstract Earth view from space with fiber optic cables rising from major cities. (World Map Courtesy of NASA: https://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=55167)Getty

SpaceX’s Starlink constellation has Canadian competition. Satellite communications firm Telesat is working on its own low-Earth orbit constellation — and that’s not the only other company competing in this growing playing field.

Telesat’s constellation was recently highlighted in Canada’s long-awaited space strategy. The Canadian Space Agency said the global constellation will give “access to high-speed broadband Internet globally, including rural and remote areas of Canada.” The far north of Canada faces many of the same challenges as areas of Africa and Asia, all of which are far from cities and at times face difficulties in getting online.

“We have our own digital divide challenges in Canada, and for a Canadian company to take a global lead and move forward with a state of the art new satellite constellation … it’s a good thing,” said Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg in an interview with Forbes, adding that it potentially means a lot of jobs for Canadians.

It’s also an interesting time for Telesat, which reported revenues of just over $900 million CDN (roughly $672 million USD) for the year ending Dec. 31, 2018. While that’s a lot of money for Canada, it’s small compared to the deep pockets of SpaceX and its billionaire founder Elon Musk. But Goldberg expressed confidence that Telesat’s experience would allow it to compete in what surely will be a crowded satellite market in the 2020s.

SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.Getty

There isn’t much known about Starlink beyond the regulatory findings, but those show that SpaceX hopes to have nearly 12,000 satellites in orbit by the mid-2020s. Last year, the company launched some prototypes (Tintin A and B). The company plans to use Starlink to make broadband Internet more widely available to rural areas, as well as to use the profits to fund plans to go to Mars, according to SpaceNews.

Telesat’s proposed customers for its network would be mobile network operators and telephone companies that need better connections, broadband connectivity to airlines for their customers, government transport vehicles as well as the maritime market (including transport ships and “superyachts”, Goldberg said.) Once ready in the 2022 timeframe, the low-Earth orbit constellation is expected to add significant revenue to Telesat’s bottom line.

These two operators, naturally, won’t be alone in the low-Earth orbit satellite network. Joined by other providers such as OneWeb, these companies are all hopping onto the small satellite trend that, thanks to the miniaturization of computer technology, allows for more power packed into a smaller space. This means that several smaller satellites can replace the more traditional large ones, allowing for better coverage (with more satellites) at lower cost.

An illustration of larger satellites orbiting Earth. In latter years, CubeSats and small satellites have become more popular.Getty

But this competition does come with complexity, said Nathan de Ruiter, managing director of Euroconsult Canada. SpaceX’s Starlink is operating in the ku-band, the traditional frequency of geostationary satellites — which means the company will need to be careful of interference. (Telesat’s is in the ka-band, so no problems in that realm are anticipated.) While Telesat has five decades of satellite experience behind it, SpaceX’s network will be larger and more funding will be available.

De Ruiter’s biggest question right now is the ground terminals that will be used for these networks. “As you can imagine, these satellites are moving,” he said. “Instead of having a fixed ground terminal with one signal, there are continuously moving satellites. Each time, the ground terminal needs to pick up the next satellite and there needs to be handovers between each one.”

Such a ground terminal might cost about $500 USD, which is a lot of money in a place such as rural Africa — even if an entire community shares the cost, De Ruiter said. There also is the question of how to maintain the terminal and to upgrade it as the satellite network is upgraded.

OneWeb has also been active in Internet connectivity, and in late February, successfully launched six satellites into orbit — making it the second company (after SpaceX) to put satellites into space. As customers decide which company to go with, those who are ready first may have that advantage — but it depends on other factors such as coverage and throughput, De Ruiter added.

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SpaceX’s first finished Starlink satellites could launch in just a few months

NASASpaceflight.com reports that SpaceX is tentatively on target for the dedicated launch debut of its first (relatively) operational Starlink satellites as …

NASASpaceflight.com reports that SpaceX is tentatively on target for the dedicated launch debut of its first (relatively) operational Starlink satellites as early as mid-May, indicating that the company might actually meet an extremely ambitious deadline set last year by CEO Elon Musk.

Although the CEO had briefly hinted that SpaceX would launch at least one additional round of prototype satellites – complementing the two launched in February 2018 – before moving to dedicated Starlink missions, all signs point to this mystery case being a dedicated Falcon 9 launch. Whether or not the aggressive mid-May schedule holds, the first launch of operational Starlink satellites would be a huge milestone for SpaceX’s low Earth orbit (LEO) internet constellation, meant to eventually provide high-quality, affordable broadband access to almost anyone on Earth.

Falcon Heavy and Starlink headline #SpaceX’s upcoming manifest – as does #CRS17 cargo resupply mission to Station. #Starlink#FalconHeavy#Falcon9.

ARTICLE: https://t.co/No71M0Md2I

(📸: @TheFavoritist) pic.twitter.com/5gH3gCUNue

— Chris G – NSF (@ChrisG_NSF) March 7, 2019

Linking the stars in phases

In November 2018, SpaceX filed a modification to the license it been previously granted by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) in March, requesting that it be allowed to dramatically change the first phase of its Starlink satellite constellation. In short, SpaceX wanted to find a faster and cheaper way to deploy its first Starlink satellites as quickly as possible.


“[SpaceX] will utilize key elements from its experimental satellites, such as its sophisticated phased-array antennas and its advanced Hall-effect thrusters, as the foundation of a more efficient and cost-effective architecture that can rapidly accelerate deployment for the overall constellation while optimizing space safety.” – Starlink FCC license modification request, SpaceX, 11/8/2018


This modification almost certainly arose as a direct result of CEO Elon Musk’s June 2018 ultimatum, in which he reportedly fired Starlink executives deemed uncooperative in order to rapidly speed up the constellation’s time-to-market. In fact, according to Reuters, Musk challenged the Starlink team to begin launching the constellation’s first operational satellites just one year later (June 2019), an extraordinary aspiration standing a handful of months after the group had launched its first two early satellite prototypes. According to a source the spoke with Reuters, Musk reportedly clashed with several managers, preferring an approach that launched simpler, cheaper satellites as quickly as possible instead of methodically iterating through multiple prototypes to arrive at an optimal solution the first time.

While both sides presumably have good reasons for their stubborn preferences, Musk may well be in the right at the end of the day, particularly given the sheer level of competition to complete LEO internet constellations and begin serving customers. An overly cautious approach could risk being so late to market that multiple competitors, ranging from relatively established entrants OneWeb and Telesat to more obscure companies like WorldVu and Space Norway. Barely a week ago, OneWeb completed the first successful launch of its constellation, placing six demonstration satellites in orbit to prove their technology and reduce risk prior to commencing operational launches with 30+ satellites apiece. Furthermore, both Tesla and SpaceX have more or less flourished while using the same approach, evidenced by a culture of continuous improvement where both electric cars and rocket engines are constantly upgraded and improved upon. Falcon 9 famously features a bevy of versions or “blocks”, culminating recently in Falcon 9 Block 5’s major reusability and reliability optimizations.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 family, 2010 to 2019. (Wikipedia)

A little crazy, but it works

Whether or not Musk can be more than a little crazy, it’s nearly impossible to coherently deny the fact that his strategy of delivering a minimum viable product as quickly as possible and gradually improving it over time has a polished record of success. Once again, Falcon 9 is the best and most relevant example in the context of Starlink. SpaceX’s now-workhorse rocket began in a form (Falcon 9 V1.0) nearly unrecognizable compared to its most recent edition, featuring far less performance, no reusability, and an older and less capable version of Merlin. Falcon 9 V1.1 was a radical – almost clean-sheet – departure from the first vehicle and was significantly more powerful while also offering structures that could support grid fins and landing legs. V1.1 also moved to Merlin 1D (M1D, MVacD), optimized for more power, efficiency, and reusability, as well as greater ease of manufacture. Several additional iterations later, and – while Block 5 does share a great deal of heritage with its predecessors – Falcon 9 is also a near-total redesign, replacing or dramatically changing nearly all critical systems aside from the basic structure of its aluminum alloy propellant tanks.

First two Starlink demo satellites, called Tintin A & B, deployed and communicating to Earth stations pic.twitter.com/TfI53wHEtz

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 22, 2018

In short, when Elon Musk and other SpaceX engineers originally conceived of Falcon 9 in the early 2000s, 2018’s Falcon 9 Block 5 was effectively the rocket they were imagining. Rather than spending countless hundreds of millions of dollars to privately design, test, and redesign multiple prototype iterations, Musk et al built a minimum viable product, began launching payloads for paying customers (both government and commercial), and used the company’s reputation, commercial success, and flight experience to shape Falcon 9 into the industry leader it is today.

Put simply, there is no reason to think that the same approach will not prove equally fruitful when applied to satellites instead of rockets. While SpaceX has yet to receive an FCC grant for its Starlink modification request, the company summarized its updated strategy in the November 2018 filing. The request effectively “relocates” the first phase of its 4,425 (now 4209) satellite LEO constellation, moving 1584 satellites from an 1100 km to 550 km orbit and simplifying the design of the first operational spacecraft by using just one spectrum segment (Ku-band) instead of two (Ku- and Ka-band). Hardware to exploit that additional spectrum will be developed and added to Starlink satellites and ground hardware down the road. As such, regardless of how unrefined SpaceX’s first operational Starlink satellites could be, the launch will be just as much of a milestone.

SpaceX’s first two Starlink prototype satellites are pictured here before their inaugural launch, showing off a thoroughly utilitarian bus and several advanced components. (SpaceX)

SpaceX will also be able to demonstrate a truly unique aspect of Starlink that helps bolsters its competitive advantage: vertically integrated production and launch of its satellites. Based on FCC permit requests filed last month, SpaceX plans to conduct the first dedicated launch from its Florida-based LC-40 pad, with the Falcon 9 booster landing more than 600 km (370 mi) offshore on drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY). Assuming SpaceX is targeting the 550 km orbit described in its Starlink license modification, this allows the payload mass to be roughly baselined alongside the company’s Iridium NEXT missions, which sent a bit less than 10,000 kg (22,000 lb) of satellite and dispenser to an orbit of ~650 km, a relatively similar orbit and mission concept. However, Falcon 9’s Iridium NEXT drone ship recoveries typically happened more like 250 km (155 mi) off of the West Coast, indicating that SpaceX’s inaugural dedicated Starlink launch will require significantly more performance out of the rocket.

Arianespace’s Ariane 6 is shown here with a massive proposed dispenser for OneWeb’s internet satellites. SpaceX’s own solution will likely look quite a bit similar.

In other words, Starlink’s operational debut could very well be the heaviest payload SpaceX has yet to launch on a single mission. Weighing less than 500 kg apiece with a dispenser (per Iridium NEXT) around 10% of the total payload mass, SpaceX will likely launch anywhere from 20-40 Starlink satellites at once, depending on the final mass of these first spacecraft and their custom-built dispenser. While delays from the late-April to mid-May launch target are arguably quite likely, the fact that the first operational Starlink launch is tentatively scheduled even less than half a year away bodes very well for tangible constellation progress in 2019.


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Airbus, OneWeb launch new satellite era

OneWeb has raised more than $2 billion from investors including Airbus, Coca-Cola Co, Qualcomm Inc, SoftBank Group Corp and Virgin Group.

A scale model of a satellite made by the Airbus-OneWeb joint venture called OneWeb Satellites is pictured in Blagnac, near Toulouse. (Reuters photo)

SEATTLE/PARIS: A rocket carrying six satellites built by Airbus SE and partner OneWeb blasted off from French Guiana on Wednesday, the first step in a plan to give millions of people in remote and rural areas high-speed internet beamed down from space.

A successful launch could mark a new era in the satellite services industry. Companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, LeoSat Enterprises, and Canada’s Telesat are working to enable data networks with hundreds or even thousands of tiny satellites that orbit closer to Earth than traditional communications satellites, a radical shift made possible by leaps in laser technology and computer chips.

The growth in satellites will spur demand for rocket launch services, and a handful of venture-backed rocket companies are developing smaller boosters to deploy the smaller satellites at lower cost.

“We are looking in the next five years at potentially 10,000 satellites needing to be launched and we don’t have the launch capacity at this moment to do that,” aerospace consultancy Teal Group analyst Marco Caceres said.

The Arianespace Soyuz rocket lifted off from Kourou, French Guiana, at 6.37 p.m. carrying satellites made by the Airbus-OneWeb joint venture called OneWeb Satellites in Toulouse, France.

The refrigerator-sized satellites were expected to reach an altitude of 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) more than an hour after launch. It could take 24 hours to fully assess the health of the satellites.

OneWeb and others aim to expand the availability and speed of satellite-based internet compared to existing providers such as Hughes Network Systems, whose network is in a higher-altitude geostationary orbit.

Hughes is also an investor in OneWeb and helping to build out its ground infrastructure.

OneWeb has raised more than $2 billion from investors including Airbus, Coca-Cola Co, Qualcomm Inc, SoftBank Group Corp and Virgin Group. It aims to have global broadband coverage in 2021 from about 650 satellites.

Virgin Group founder and billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson told Reuters that OneWeb’s launch gave them a multi-year market advantage over principal competitor Elon Musk’s SpaceX, though enough people lack internet globally to support both constellations.

“We think our network is going to be a better network and it’s going to happen quicker than his,” he said.

“OneWeb plans to begin launching more than 30 satellites at a time every month starting as early as September so its constellation is nearly 25% complete by year-end,” a person with direct knowledge of the project said.

Other firms say they are not far behind. Telesat, backed by Loral Space & Communications Inc, is targeting 2022 for broadband services from nearly 300 satellites.

Washington, D.C.-based LeoSat Enterprises says it has already signed more than $1 billion in pre-launch provisional agreements for secure data transfers for global banks, telecoms providers and governments beginning in 2022.

Reuters reported a major shake-up last year at SpaceX’s Starlink project, which chief executive Musk has said is critical as a funding source for his broader space transportation ambitions but faces challenges on development and testing.

A person with direct knowledge of the program said SpaceX was driving toward a first “production launch” with money-making satellites in mid-2019.

“SpaceX already has two test satellites in space and plans to launch a new design based on those soon,” said one SpaceX official, who asked not to be named.

“SpaceX has not chosen a location to manufacture the satellites or made a final decision on how it will build, sell and service the terminals that will link the satellite-based internet to users,” people with direct knowledge of the project said.

Musk told employees in at least one meeting last year that SpaceX could decide to sell broadband to existing internet providers initially and worry about building out its own Earth infrastructure later, according to a person who attended the meeting.

SpaceX spokeswoman Eva Behrend declined to comment.

A SpaceX official said its initial batch of satellites were currently being manufactured, and its internal launch targets were on track, but the company has not announced a launch date.

The OneWeb project has forced Airbus to rethink the way it builds satellites, overhauling a painstaking, bespoke effort to introduce industrial methods and speed using assembly lines and automation.

The two companies plan to open what they say is the world’s first satellite mass-production factory at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in March for $85 million. Production will ramp up to 15 satellites per week at a cost of $1 million per satellite, executives say.

OneWeb Satellites chief executive Tony Gingiss told Reuters the goal was to be making two to three satellites a day by early summer.

“That’s revolutionary in an industry where it costs $50 million to build one satellite and normally takes months and a team of engineers to do,” he said.

OneWeb has ground stations in Canada, Italy and Norway that allow the satellites to communicate with Earth, and has signed a partnership with Qualcomm to develop the technology that links the internet from space to different users, such as airlines.

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Masayoshi Son-Backed Startup OneWeb Launches Its First Space-Based Internet Satellites

The race includes everyone from Elon Musk’s SpaceX and existing satellite-based Internet providers Viasat (vsat) and EchoStar’s (sats) Hughes …

Space-based Internet startup OneWeb, backed by billionaires Richard Branson and Masayoshi Son, successfully launched its first six satellites on Wednesday, the beginning of a planned constellation of more than 650.

OneWeb said it is already communicating with the six craft, which went into orbit via a rocket launched in French Guiana by private launch company Arianespace. The launch “marks the start of a new phase for our company as we begin scaling our satellite constellation in preparation to start full commercial services,” CEO Adrian Steckel said in a statement. The company will begin offering customer demonstrations next year and full Internet service from space anywhere on the planet in 2021.

Son’s Softbank Group, Branson’s Virgin Group and other investors have supplied OneWeb with about $2 billion in backing so far, as the startup races against rivals large and small to offer much faster Internet connections from satellites than are available now. The race includes everyone from Elon Musk’s SpaceX and existing satellite-based Internet providers Viasat (vsat) and EchoStar’s (sats) Hughes Network Systems to dozens of upstarts like Swarm Technologies, Astrocast, and Sky and Space Global. SpaceX and Swarm have reached the satellite-launch phase too, as have Viasat and Hughes, which are already looking to upgrade those in use.