SpaceX’ latest Falcon 9 launch, on Thursday May 23rd (10:30 PM EDT) was successful after they managed to launch 60 v0.9 Starlink satellites into orbit. The launch was originally planned to take place on May 15, but that was cancelled due to upper high winds. On the day of the backup launch, May 16, SpaceX announced that it was cancelled again for a software update and additional checks. Better safe than sorry seemed to be the right way to go, as the launch went spectacularly well.
So, what is Starlink?
SpaceX first publicly announced their ‘’global broadband’’ system in 2015. However, it was not until September 2017 they filed applications for a satellite based broadband network. The goal? To create a network of low earth orbit satellites capable of delivering internet access to the world.
Image Credit: @Techcrunch
Now you may ask, what’s so special about that? Well, the difference between Starlink and other internet satellites, is that Starlink will exist of a constellation of 12.000 pieces! In comparison to the older satellites, who suffer from unreliable connections and empty service areas, Starlink will be able to deliver high-speed internet to every corner of the earth.
Let’s put into perspective how big of an idea this really is. At this point in time, there are 1,980 active satellites in Earth’s orbit. To get the coverage intended, SpaceX will have to launch 4,425 satellites into space.
Earlier this year, on February 22nd, a big step was taken. Tintin A and Tintin B, two Starlink test satellites, were launched from the Vandenbergh Air Force Base in California. These test satellites will not be part of the eventual network. However these tests were needed to lay the foundation for this infrastructure dream. The success of this awarded SpaceX Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval to deliver internet access and charge people for it.
Every satellite, weighing about 850 pounds – equivalent to the size of a car, will orbit above the Earth in altitudes varying from 715 to 790 miles high. Using Ka/Ku radio frequencies, the constellation will be able to deliver 1Gbps to terrestrial customers, which is around 200 times faster than today’s average internet.
A SpaceX Fairing containing 60 Starlink satellites compared to the fairing containing Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster.
What’s the gain?
SpaceX’ main goal remains to make the human race an interplanetary species, with their focus on terraforming Mars, or at least building a self-sustaining city on the red planet. To realize this, you presumably need money and a lot of it. By being able to deliver fast internet globally for a relatively low price, SpaceX ultimately takes a leap past the competitors. Presumably SpaceX will use the funds gained by Starlink to fund the Starship and other future missions.
While working on this blog, I came across a lot of critiques. People are largely concerned with how damaging Starlink satellites would be to our view of the galaxy. I know that most of the people that read this, are fans of SpaceX and are already excited to see the ISS (at least I am!). Having said that, 12.000 is a heck of number, and even though space is huge, I understand the concern.
However looking at how cool Marco Langbroek’s footage is, as well as reading about other people’s failed search attempts for the satellites, I think their concern is an important element to be considered in the future when there could be tens of thousands satellites in orbit. While I think most critiques are people who are a bit afraid of change, I believe once we are at the point where we have new, (moving!) constellations, consisting of satellites, everybody will be happily looking up to Starman.
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