Across the United States, there is a large gap in the availability of reliable internet services. The COVID pandemic only exacerbated this problem, as schools and jobs suddenly relied heavily upon computers and internet service. The urgent need to connect families in most rural areas became apparent. Perhaps the best solution to accommodate all these needs is satellite broadband.
Before the COVID shutdown, Elon Musk, a well-known entrepreneur and CEO of Telsa, planned to build a satellite broadband service called Starlink. His space transportation service company, SpaceX, would manufacture an entire constellation of these Starlink satellites. These satellites will launch into Earth’s low orbit to provide broadband internet services in many of these hard to reach areas of the United States.
Recently, Musk announced the launch of 60 new Starlink satellites. He announced on October 6, 2020, in the following Tweet:
“Once these satellites reach their target position, we will be able to roll out a fairly wide public beta in (the) northern US & hopefully southern Canada.” he wrote on Twitter. “Other countries to follow as soon as we receive regulatory approval.”
What is SpaceX?
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation or SpaceX is a privately funded rocket company created by Musk. The company’s goal is to create a reusable rocket and launch system that lowers the cost of space flight for transportation services in the future. SpaceX made history by launching a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, and in 2020 the Dragon spacecraft, a liquid propellant rocket, became the first commercial spacecraft when it delivered a load of cargo to the International Space Station.
In February 2018, SpaceX made history again when it sent a Tesla electric sports car operated by a mannequin named Starman dressed in a spacesuit sitting in the driver’s seat. The Roadster sports car with Starman at the helm sat upon the Falcon Heavy rocket. The goal was to have the roadster orbit around the sun. Not only was the launch successful, but the roadster is still orbiting the sun as if it was a planet. Starman and his electric sports car have been in space for over 600 days and will continue its orbit for hundreds of years.
What is a satellite broadband internet service?
Satellite internet service isn’t a new concept. It’s been around for decades. Broadband internet delivers into a location through a satellite. You may remember the satellite television that was so popular in the 90s. Satellite companies sent an internet connection to the satellite dish in your yard at high speeds so you could watch a variety of tv shows. Today’s broadband speeds are even faster. As of 2020, two major companies provide satellite broadband services. You’ve used one broadband service connection through a company called Viasat if you ever used the WiFi on an airplane or a cruise ship.
SpaceX is using low-Earth orbit constellations like Starlink because they’re closer to the ground. Thus, the information doesn’t travel as far, causing less lag time in the internet service.
Why is Starlink better than traditional satellite internet?
Starlink goes beyond all other traditional satellite internet services. SpaceX says that Starlink satellites will provide services 10 to 40 times faster than traditional internet services. Plus, Starlink will be more affordable than other services and provide fewer signal dropouts than traditional internet services. SpaceX says that the installation of Starlink internet will be less difficult than regular satellite services of old. So, instead of a large satellite dish sitting in your yard or on top of your house, the Starlink’s dish is much smaller, 20 inches in diameter. Buyers should be able to install the dish themselves.
What does the launch of Starlink satellites mean?
Starlink could be the cutting edge technology we need to provide internet to thousands of people. “The COVID-19 crisis has significantly accelerated attention to and investment in satellite technology,” says Babak Beheshti, a professor at the New York Institute of Technology and Dean of the College of Engineering and Computing Sciences. “Why? Because schools, local governments, and others suddenly needed to have broadband internet access in areas where there was really no infrastructure in place.”
Musk is determined to make the Starlink satellite broad services available to those with poor internet services.
The Hoh Tribe tribe has lived on the Pacific coast of the Olympic Peninsula area of Washington state for decades. The tribe had been experiencing extremely slow internet and poor connection for many years. As a result, the Washington State Commerce Department, knowing their needs, arranged for the tribal to be introduced to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite team, who connected them to Starlink satellite service. Using the Starlink service has completely changed the way the tribe uses the internet.
Overnight, the tribe went from little to no connectivity to high-speed internet. Starlink is opening the door for this tribe to have access to remote learning and better healthcare. This grateful community is excited to be some of the first recipients of SpaceX’s new space-based internet service.
The Hoh Tribe acknowledged their appreciation to Musk and SpaceX by tweeting the following statement on October 7, 2020:
“What a difference high-speed internet can make! Our children can participate in remote learning, residents can access. We felt like we’d been paddling up-river with a spoon on this. Starlink made it happen overnight.”
In the not too far off future, SpaceX hopes to provide Starlink satellite-based internet services to other communities who struggle to get internet services.
The Starlink constellation keeps growing.
Musk says that currently, there are 770 Starlink satellites in orbit. SpaceX hopes to launch another 2,000 to add to the Starlink constellation by the end of 2021. Long term, SpaceX plans to launch up to 12,000 satellites all approved by Congress. Moreover, because the company does things a big way, they applied to Congress to launch another 30,000 satellites in 2019.
When is blast off?
It’s only a matter of time before Starlink’s broadband internet service is launched. SpaceX says the launch of its new broadband network in North America is just around the corner with greater capacity to reach people at faster speeds with the internet than ever before.
SpaceX’s ultimate goal is to provide broadband internet that’s reliable, inexpensive, and easily available. In the United States, beta testing is beginning in various parts of the country that have poor internet service. In September, people began signing up to be participants in the beta tests. This groundbreaking service will no doubt launch major competition between other internet providers.
SpaceX’s Starlink has dreams of dominating the satellite broadband internet industry. They boast that their internet service will outperform all the other satellite companies. Starlink will cost less, have higher speeds, and be more reliable. Such goals may seem unrealistic. But with a growing need for more reliable internet for online learning and remote jobs during the pandemic, many people hope they accomplish their goals. The urgent need to get people broadband service reinforces the idea that SpaceX and Musk may indeed be on to something that will change how we and the entire world use the internet.