SpaceX will begin launching its first Starlink test satellites next week

In context: SpaceX has been working to get its satellite-based broadband service, Starlink, off the ground for a couple of years now. It started to finally …
In context: SpaceX has been working to get its satellite-based broadband service, Starlink, off the ground for a couple of years now. It started to finally get the ball rolling on that process in November when it secured permission to launch over 7,000 satellites to get the network up and running. Later, in February, the space company sought FCC permission to operate roughly one million ground-based “earth stations” to communicate with the network.

Now, just a few months later, SpaceX is ramping up its plans to begin launching “dozens” of test broadband satellites as early as next week.

This early test will be a crucial precursor to Starlink’s full-scale service launch, which will take place later in 2019 — assuming all goes well, anyway. As SpaceX is well aware following the recent destruction of its Crew Dragon test capsule, even the best-laid plans can be ruined due to unforeseen circumstances.

To be clear, although SpaceX’s service satellites will begin launchingthis year, Starlink won’t necessarily be available on a consumer basis for quite some time. The earth stations SpaceX is hoping to deploy won’t be setup until 2020 at the earliest, and Starlink will probably need a fair bit of beta testing before it launches on a wider scale.

Still, we’re looking forward to seeing how the company’s preparations work out in the coming weeks and months. As always, we’ll keep you updated if any interesting developments occur during that time frame.

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FCC Approves New Ring of Satellites

That follows the approvals in the past year and a half, of similar constellations proposed by OneWeb, SpaceX and others (SpaceNorway, Kepler).

The FCC has approved another constellation of low-earth orbit satellites it hopes can provide some competition in the data-delivery space.

The commission voted unanimously to allow Theia Holdings to build, launch and operate the satellites to provide high-resolution earth imaging in the U.S. and around the world.

Related: FCC Lets SpaceX Move on Down

Theia plans a ring of 112 non-geostationary satellites, which the FCC says it can use for fixed satellite or earth exploration services.

That follows the approvals in the past year and a half, of similar constellations proposed by OneWeb, SpaceX and others (SpaceNorway, Kepler).

For example, the commission in November 2018 approved SpaceX’s application to deploy constellations of non-geostationary orbit constellations of satellites to deploy and operate a worldwide broadband delivery service.

While the vote was unanimous, there was some concern expressed about the number of satellites orbiting the earth and the potential debris field issues.

“In the past year, the Federal Communications Commission has approved over 13,000 new satellites for launch,” pointed out Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “[I]ncreasing the number of satellites in orbit like this brings new challenges. Chief among them is that the growing amount of debris in orbit could make some regions of space unusable for decades to come.”

She pushed the Republican majority to come up with a plan for mitigating potential collisions, including coordinating with other agencies.

Commissioner Brendan Carr was also concerned about debris, but said he was not sure the FCC was the right agency to be dealing with that issue.

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SpaceX broadband testing to ramp up with launch of dozens of satellites

SpaceX will launch dozens of demonstration broadband satellites next week as it ramps up testing for its planned Starlink service. The company says …
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the hangar after a flight.
Enlarge/ A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the hangar after a flight in April 2017.
SpaceX

SpaceX will launch dozens of demonstration broadband satellites next week as it ramps up testing for its planned Starlink service. The company says it will begin launching satellites for the actual service later this year.

This week, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell confirmed that dozens of Starlink satellites will be aboard the Falcon 9 launch scheduled for May 15, according to several news reports.

“This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together,” Shotwell said on Tuesday at the Satellite 2019 conference in Washington, DC, according to SpaceNews. “We start launching satellites for actual service later this year.”

“Shotwell characterized this first wave as a demonstration set, with no satellite-to-satellite communication links,” GeekWire wrote. “Depending on how the demonstrations proceed, from two to six Starlink launches could follow by the end of this year, she said.” (As we’ve previously written, SpaceX says its satellites will essentially operate as a mesh network, and they communicate with user terminals at customer homes.)

Commercial service in 2020—or later

SpaceX hasn’t revealed a specific commercial availability date. The latest details appear to put SpaceX on track to launch commercial service no earlier than 2020, consistent with the company’s past statements. In October 2017, SpaceX told a Congressional committee that it would launch at least 800 satellites before offering commercial service and said the commercial service would likely become available in 2020 or 2021, as SpaceNews reported at the time.

SpaceX launched its first two test Starlink satellites in February 2018, but it has changed the design since then. The changes were made in part so that satellites will burn up completely during atmospheric re-entry in order to prevent physical harm from falling objects.

SpaceX has Federal Communications Commission approval to launch nearly 12,000 broadband satellites over nine years. On April 26, SpaceX received FCC approval to halve the orbital altitude of more than 1,500 of those planned broadband satellites in order to lower the risk of space debris and improve latency. After that latest approval, Shotwell said that “Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing.”

SpaceX has said that Starlink will offer gigabit-per-second speeds and latency of around 25ms, which would make it a lot more appealing than current satellite broadband services.

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Satellite internetSpaceX will launch dozens of “Starlink” satellites

ON MAY 6TH SpaceX, a private rocketry firm founded by Elon Musk, an internet entrepreneur, celebrated its 17th birthday. Despite being old enough …

ON MAY 6TH SpaceX, a private rocketry firm founded by Elon Musk, an internet entrepreneur, celebrated its 17th birthday. Despite being old enough to drive, the firm is still occasionally described as a startup. In reality, its ability to slash the cost of rocketry has given it a bulging order book and made it a pillar of the satellite-launch market.

But Mr Musk has not lost his appetite for adventure. On May 15th, assuming the weather holds, the firm will launch one of its Falcon rockets with an unusual payload. Instead of carrying another company’s satellites, it will be packed full of dozens of small satellites of SpaceX’s own design. They are prototypes for a project called Starlink, the intention of which is to deploy thousands of satellites in orbits close to Earth to provide internet access anywhere and everywhere on the surface of the planet—including to the estimated 3.5bn people who currently lack regular, high-quality connectivity.

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Communication satellites are not a new idea. But most existing ones orbit far above Earth’s surface, in so-called geostationary orbits at a height of about 36,000km. That is the magic altitude at which a satellite orbits as fast as Earth rotates, and thus appears to hang fixed in the sky when seen from the ground. Starlink satellites, by contrast, will fly in three sets of orbits at roughly 340km, 550km and 1,200km.

That will make things complicated. For one thing, Starlink will need a lot of satellites. The firm has said the system should be able to begin commercial service with around 800 of them. But applications filed with the Federal Communication Commission, an American regulator, suggest the firm may eventually be planning nearly 12,000. That is more than twice as many satellites as are currently in orbit (5,101 according to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs), and almost half as many again as the total number of objects—8,539—sent into orbit since the dawn of the Space Age.

Low orbits mean that antennas on the ground must be able to track different satellites rapidly as they appear over the horizon and then vanish again. SpaceX has lodged plans for a million such ground stations. The satellites, meanwhile, must be able to hand customers off quickly to one another. (They are designed to communicate with each other via lasers.) Both of these things will be tricky. Flying low has benefits, though. The strength of a radio signal falls with the square of its distance, which means that communicating with Starlink will use a fraction of the energy needed to talk to high-flying geostationary comsats. And flying low reduces signal latency. The speed of light means that talking via a geostationary satellite imposes a delay of around half of a second.

For some applications, such as voice calls, low latency is nice. For others, such as remote manipulation of machinery, it is vital. Mark Handley, a computer scientist at University College, London, who has done modelling studies of how Starlink might work, thinks financial traders could be one lucrative market. Since light moves faster in a vacuum than through glass, SpaceX’s network might provide quicker connections than the fibre-optic cables that currently carry most internet traffic, opening up new possibilities for arbitrage. At the same time, SpaceX is working on huge rockets that, if and when they fly, could help drive launch costs down even further.

It is not the only firm with ambitions to beam the internet from the sky. OneWeb, a company founded in 2012 and now part-owned by Airbus, a European aerospace firm, and SoftBank, a Japanese conglomerate, wants to do something similar. OneWeb launched six satellites in February, and expects that its finished constellation will contain about 900 of them. Amazon, Samsung, Boeing and others have toyed with similar plans, though they exist mostly on paper for now.

Whether any of this will actually happen is, of course, the biggest question of all. The idea is not new, says Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer and satellite-watcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, in Massachusetts. In the 1990s three firms—Iridium, Globalstar and Teledesic—tried something similar, albeit with fewer satellites. The satellites worked, but were expensive and slow, with limited capacity. And clunky hardware was needed on the ground to connect with them. The dotcom bust in 2000, says Dr McDowell, brought an end to their dreams of truly global internet access. Second time lucky?

This article appeared in theScience and technologysection of the print edition under the headline“Weaving a web in space”

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Amazon & SpaceX’s New Home Internet Services Will Reportedly Save Americans $30+ Billion …

This year we learned that Amazon was working on launching a home Internet service by launching satellites into low earth orbit. Recently SpaceX …

This year we learned that Amazon was working on launching a home Internet service by launching satellites into low earth orbit. Recently SpaceX received FCC approval to do the same, offering their own home Internet service.

Now, according to a study from BroadbandNow, these new services will drive down the cost of home Internet. This savings could add up to as much as $30 billion every year. This happens because markets with more than two Internet providers charge less for home Internet, according to BroadbandNow.

SpaceX just received approval from the FCC to launch 4,425 satellites into space to build a low earth orbit network to sell home Internet.

Unlike current satellite Internet, these satellites will be in a far lower orbit and offer far faster speeds without the data caps current satellite systems use.

The goal is that this new system will offer robust high-speed Internet, especially in developing countries and rural parts of developed nations like the United States. While you may not be running out to buy this if you have fiber Internet, it could bring true wireless Internet options to Americans who currently have no real options.

Amazon is planning to launch 3,236 satellites to build a network, providing global high-speed Internet. Unlike current satellite Internet, these devices will be in a far lower orbit and offer faster speeds than current satellite systems.

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