SpaceX aims to provide internet service in remote areas of the world
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The US-based company, SpaceX, is aiming to introduce the world’s most advanced broadband internet network by deploying satellites into the atmosphere creating a satellite network called Starlink.
The idea was first announced in 2015 at a private event in Seattle in the United States, where Founder and CEO Elon Musk stated that SpaceX would be deploying test satellites into orbit. In late February of 2018, he announced the launch of two test satellites named Tintin A and Tintin B.
In addition to the 4,000 satellites SpaceX originally intended to launch, the Federal Communications Commission released a document in November of 2018, granting SpaceX permission to launch over 7,000 non-geostationary satellites into low-orbit.
As of April this year, the company successfully launched 422 satellites, including the test satellites, and are currently working to have as many as 12,000 satellites active by the end of the decade forming a “mega-constellation.”
Musk responded to a question about coverage on Twitter in April noting that the project will begin in high latitudes with a private beta test in about three months, followed by a public beta test in about six months.
The plan is to launch 60 satellites at a time via SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, which will be deployed into low-orbit about 273 miles (440 kilometers) up from the launch point in the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space. The satellites each weigh about 260kg and feature a compact, flat-panel design that minimizes volume, allowing the engineers at SpaceX to maximize the amount that Falcon 9 can store for travel.
Each satellite will be able to autonomously avoid colliding with space debris and other spacecraft by utilising data from the US Department of Defense’s debris tracking system according to Starlink’s website.
Another feature highlighted on the website is that the satellites are equipped with ion thrusters that are powered by krypton, a chemical compound stated to be cheaper than the previously used xenon. The ion thrusters allow the satellites to adjust their location in orbit, maintain their intended altitude, and de-orbit at the end of their mission. Also, the satellites contain custom navigation sensors that track altitude.
In addition, Stalink’s website boasts that the satellites will utilise on-board propulsion systems to deorbit for a few months once they’re no longer in use. In the event the propulsion systems do not function, the satellites will burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere within 1-5 years. The website also notes that this time frame is less than the hundreds or thousands of years required at higher altitudes.
The project is not without any complications, as there have been public concerns. Astronomers, in particular, are concerned about how the brightness from a large number of satellites can negatively affect ground-based observers who may confuse the satellites with actual stars.
Some individuals who share this concern reached out to Musk via Twitter asking him about the increased visibility of the satellites within recent times. Musk responded saying it was due to the angle of the solar panels during the satellites’ orbital raise and parking sequence, and that a fix was being applied. The company also made mention of equipping the satellites with sunshades and darker shaded paints to help reduce reflection.
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s COO, spoke on TEDx regarding the project, stating that one of the complications they face is not so much the physics involved, but rather turning it into a business, as the entire process will cost SpaceX around 10 billion USD to complete.
Due to its nature, Starlink’s global network will not be limited by traditional internet network infrastructure on the ground. Publications like Business Insider express the opinion that Starlink, alongside companies like Amazon, OneWeb, and Apple, will fill the void in the world’s communications infrastructure that left a rift between well-connected urban cities and rural areas without suitable internet networking infrastructure.
According to its website, Starlink is currently targeting service in the Northern U.S. and Canada in 2020 and will rapidly expand to near-global coverage of the populated world by 2021.
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