SpaceX’s Starlink: Global Internet Begins

When you’re traveling on a train  through the middle of nowhere,  chances are your internet is spotty or just plain  disappears. What if your connection is not only  stable but it’s just as good as it is in a big  city? Ever since 2019, SpaceX has been launching batches of about 60 Starlink satellites at a  time. You can see the Starlink satellites gently floating away.

Enough are now in orbit to start  its plan to connect nearly every inch of the world A Native American tribe that lives in a remote  part of Washington State is one of the first to  try out the new internet. Before the Hoh Tribe  got Starlink as part of a private beta test  their internet wasn’t great and that’s putting  it lightly. They’ve had to deal with astonishing  rates of 0.3 to 0.7 megabits per second. They  can’t even stream a YouTube video in standard 480p  which requires at least a megabit a second.  The global average for broadband connection is 84 megabits per second. SpaceX just came up  and just catapulted us into the 21st century.

Our youth are able to do education online.  Initial tests of Starlink show it can download greater than 100 megabits a second according to  SpaceX. Another advantage is supposed to be low latency which measures delay. For example, the  time it takes between clicking on a web page and when the page is displayed. SpaceX says the  lag is around 20 milliseconds – good enough to play the fastest games online and on par with  ground-based services like fiber-optic broadband.  

Low latency is achieved because the satellites  are much closer to Earth, with most sitting 550 km or 340 miles above the planet’s surface  whereas many others are at least 1,000 km out.  But there are disadvantages to sitting at a lower  altitude. The satellites will see less of the planet so a lot more are needed to cover an area.  That’s why SpaceX plans to put 12,000 into orbit and possibly as many as 42,000 one day.  Considering only 9,000 satellites have ever been launched in all of history, this is astounding and  not going unnoticed when you look up at the sky. The latest ones have a visor to make them less  shiny than these but astronomers doubt this will make them completely invisible to the eye. Besides  the impact on observations, questions have been  raised about how this will add to debris in space  commonly called space junk, defined as any object that no longer has a purpose.

SpaceX had to show  the FCC it has a plan to address the debris issue before getting approval to launch in the US. The  company says satellites that fail or are old will intentionally deorbit with their thrusters and burn up in the atmosphere so they won’t become debris. A benefit of flying low is rapid  re-entry. Avoiding collisions is another pressing matter. The satellites are equipped with tracking  technology from the U.S. military to dodge debris or spacecraft – although a European satellite did  have to maneuver out of the way of a Starlink last year. SpaceX then fixed a computer glitch it  said led to a communication breakdown with the European Space Agency. These are concerns  SpaceX is facing as it launches rapidly.

Over 700 satellites are now in orbit enough  to start rolling at public beta tests in the Northern U.S. and in southern Canada. Users will  connect to the constellation with a terminal the size of a small or medium pizza. Apparently, it  doesn’t require special expertise to install. You plug it in and aim it to get a clear view  of the sky.

While it might be easy to use,  the difficulty may be getting your hands on  the device because governments could ban them. In my previous video about Starlink, I talked  about internet censorship in countries like China and what would happen if SpaceX gave citizens  unfiltered internet access without permission. Here’s what Elon Musk once said. If they get  they get upset with us, they can blow our satellites up, which wouldn’t be good. China can  do that, so probably we shouldn’t broadcast there. Another market Starlink is unlikely to touch  is high-density areas because it doesn’t have sufficient bandwidth – meaning the volume of  information it can handle at a given time. But that doesn’t mean those living in cities  won’t be impacted. Musk has confirmed Starlink can work on moving objects like trains and  people can potentially use it no matter where they are at sea.

SpaceX wants to test it out on  its drone ships used to help land the boosters of the Falcon 9 rockets. There is a more substantial  impact for people who already have good internet. As more of the world comes online, this  will change the demographics of the web, the languages that dominate, where  the advertising dollars flow, what businesses emerge to cater to new users. 40%  of the population doesn’t have internet access. If billions of people come online, the world  wide web will look like a very different place. And it could happen very soon. SpaceX wants  to roll at coverage globally by 2021 or 2022. As life-changing as it could be, a global  internet is actually a step toward a bigger goal. 

That goal is building a city on Mars. SpaceX is  banking on Starlink to eventually bring in 30 billion dollars a year – 10 times more than what  it makes launching payloads to the International Space Station. We don’t yet know how much Starlink  will cost but SpaceX’s president and COO Gwynne Shotwell did point out in an interview million of  people in the U.S. pay 80 bucks a month for crappy service, in her words. SpaceX claims hundreds  of thousands of people have already expressed interest. If starlink fulfills its promise of  connecting the most remote locations on earth, if it replaces a poor connection with a  good one, if it’s relatively affordable, then a massive disruption is about to happen. 

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