SpaceX says its Starlink satellite internet can download 100 megabits per second, and 'space lasers' transfer data between satellites
Summary List Placement
SpaceX says early tests of its rapidly growing fleet of internet-providing satellites are yielding promising results. Internal tests of a beta version of internet service from the company's Starlink project show "super low latency and download speeds greater than 100 [megabits] per second," Kate Tice, a SpaceX senior certification engineer, said during a live broadcast of a Starlink launch on Thursday. "That means our latency is low enough to play the fastest online video games, and our download speeds are fast enough to stream multiple HD movies at once and still have bandwidth to spare," Tice added. The Starlink initiative eventually aims to send tens of thousands of broadband satellites into orbit, blanketing Earth in affordable, high-speed internet. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that he hopes Starlink will get rural and remote regions online. Already, the company has launched more than 700 satellites.
Tice also announced that SpaceX recently completed a test of two orbiting satellites that are equipped with inter-satellite links — informally known as "space lasers." This technology enables Starlink satellites to transfer data directly to each other in orbit, instead of beaming it to the ground and back. "With these space lasers, these Starlink satellites were able to transfer hundreds of gigabytes of data. Once these space lasers are fully deployed, Starlink will be one of the fastest options available to transfer data around the world," she said. She added that Starlink is "well into" the first phase of private beta testing, and plans to roll out a more public test program later this year. The company has already begun reaching out to people who applied to participate in the beta program. Thursday's launch marked a record-breaking milestone: SpaceX has launched 180 satellites in just one month — the fastest satellite-launch rate in history. After launching at least 300 more satellites, the company plans to boot up Starlink more fully. "For the system to be economically viable, it's really on the order of 1,000 satellites," Musk said in May 2019. From there, SpaceX plans to keep building toward a floating internet backbone that would offer ultra-high-speed web access to most of the planet. All in all, the company has sought government permission to put a total of 42,000 satellites into orbit to form a "megaconstellation" around Earth. Dave Mosher contributed reporting.SEE ALSO: SpaceX's Starlink is unlikely to win 'anything' from a $16 billion pool of federal funding. But losing could benefit the ambitious satellite-internet project. DON'T MISS: SpaceX broke a record by launching 180 satellites in 1 month — accelerating Elon Musk's project to blanket Earth in high-speed internet Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Everything SpaceX had to get right for Crew Dragon's Splashdown
More like this (3)
New photos appear to show Elon Musk's 'UFO on a stick' device that will connect users to SpaceX's fleet of Starlink internet satellites
A Reddit user appears to have posted the first unambiguous photos of ground devices that connect...A Reddit user appears to have posted the first unambiguous photos of ground devices that connect to SpaceX's fleet of internet-beaming Starlink satellites. The person said they drove by the SpaceX site near Merrillan, Wisconsin, and used a large telephoto lens to photograph the antennas. The devices closely match prior descriptions of them by Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder and CEO. A label on the antennas also describes them as prototypes and property of SpaceX. Although Musk said Starlink could net SpaceX tens of billions of dollars per year, he noted in May that bringing down the cost of subscriber antennas, called user terminals, may be the project's biggest hurdle. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. A SpaceX fan who lives near Merrillan, Wisconsin, has apparently seen the aerospace company's future on a rural gravel lot across the road from rows of grain corn. The photos, posted Saturday by Reddit user darkpenguin22, may be the first unequivocal images of ground antennas described by SpaceX in federal filings for Starlink: a growing fleet of internet-beaming satellites that may orbit Earth by the tens of thousands before the end of the decade. If Starlink pans out as described by Elon Musk, the aerospace company's founder, the project may one day net SpaceX tens of billions of dollars per year by permitting people to get online with high-speed, low-lag internet from almost anywhere on the planet. While SpaceX has posted plenty of photos and videos of its roughly 570-pound, desk-size satellites, the company has yet to reveal any of its Starlink ground-segment hardware. SpaceX ignored Business Insider's request for comment on the images and their contents. However, the pictures appear to show authentic prototypes capable of talking to overflying Starlink satellites, the site matches satellite imagery for a SpaceX testing location in an April 29 notice by the Federal Communications Commission, and a magnified view of the label on the devices says the units are prototypes and SpaceX property. The pictures, republished here with permission, show two flavors of apparent Starlink antennas: a roughly five-foot-diameter bulbous white radome, which protects ground-station electronics inside, and a much smaller and sleeker user terminal. "I just happen to live nearby so going there to take some pictures myself was an easy way to contribute to the community," darkpenguin22, who requested anonymity to maintain their privacy, told Business Insider in a message. "I'm a long time SpaceX and Tesla fan and work in IT as a sysadmin, so have been closely following Starlink developments for both personal and professional/business purposes." The person added: "Could potentially become a very competitive alternative for corporate site-to-site links, at least in less population dense parts of the country/world. I also see it as key to enabling efficient remote working for those of us who prefer a more rural lifestyle." A 'UFO on a stick' revealed In its earliest phase, SpaceX plans to launch nearly 1,600 Starlink satellites to an altitude of about 340 miles above Earth. To that end, the company has rocketed about 480 operational satellites into space — though it is attempting to send up a new batch of about 60 satellites every two weeks. Gwynne Shotwell, the president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, told Irene Klotz of Aviation Week in May that the company would "roll out service in a more public way" after launching more than 800 spacecraft. The first phase of satellites will orbit about 64 times closer than a typical internet-beaming satellite, thus they could (in theory) be capable of providing near-lagless internet. If SpaceX can prove its case to the FCC, the company may qualify for billions in federal subsidies geared toward providing areas with low-quality or nonexistent broadband service. Key to that effort, however, are the devices companies and people will use to upload and download data to and from Starlink. The larger ground stations would be used in key locations to help shuttle internet traffic to and from the Starlink network. Meanwhile, Starlink beta testers and later individual subscribers would use the medium-pizza-size terminals to log on to the network. Elon Musk in 2015 said the user terminals would be roughly the size of a medium pizza. Earlier this year, Musk further described a user terminal as "a thin, flat, round UFO on a stick" that would use motors to self-adjust to an "optimal angle to view [the] sky" and talk to SpaceX's fleet of orbiting Starlink satellites. All that's required to set them up, the CEO said, is to plug them in and point them at the sky. ("These instructions work in either order. No training required," he tweeted on January 7.) The images of the satellite dishes shared on Reddit clearly fit the description. A zoomed-in part of one photo (not shown) also shows a label with a serial number and a notice that says: Property of SpaceXPrototype — Not for sale or leaseThis unit is intended for demonstrations [sic] use only. This device has not been authorized as required by the rules of the Federal Communications Commission. This device is not, and may not be, offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased, until authorization is obtained. Therefore, ownership must remain with SpaceX. The size of the device also aligns with SpaceX patents for a phased-array antenna system that's ostensibly inside each user terminal. The phased-array components, designed to rapidly track and communicate with in-view satellites, are necessary for Starlink because the spacecraft move overhead so quickly. Bowl-shaped dishes that don't move and point to one part of the sky, like those used to aim at a traditional TV or internet satellite, wouldn't suffice for keeping an uninterrupted connection; a platter of phase shifters, however, can work together to electronically and almost instantly steer a transmission beam from one satellite to another. SpaceX in February 2018 filed US and world patents for a "distributed phase shifter array system and method." The US version is pending, and the world version is still under review, so neither the US Patent Office nor World Intellectual Property Organization has yet granted SpaceX a patent. But Starlink has a long road to profitability Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, is looking to Starlink as a colossal revenue stream to help fund SpaceX's planned conquest of Mars. The company is authorized to launch nearly 12,000 of the satellites, though it's seeking to launch a total of about 42,000. "For the system to be economically viable, it's really on the order of 1,000 satellites," Musk told Business Insider of Starlink during a press call on May 15, 2019. "If we're putting a lot more satellites than that in orbit, that's actually a very good thing. It means there's a lot of demand for the system." But while Starlink may complete beta tests of the system and start transitioning to public service before the end of 2020, turning the project into a moneymaker could take much longer. As Musk told Aviation Week in May, bringing down the cost of devices called user terminals — which would connect subscribers to orbiting Starlink satellites — remains a major hurdle. Currently, phased-array antenna components cost about $1,500, though Musk wants to sell customers a "UFO on a stick" for about $200 to $300. "I think the biggest challenge will be with the user terminal and getting the user terminal cost to be ... affordable," he told Aviation Week. "That will take us a few years to really solve." The seeming conflict between public service rollout before 2021, yet affordable user terminals around 2023, suggests the cost of the devices may at first be significantly subsidized by SpaceX to allow the company to build a customer base for the network. Do you have a story or inside information to share about the spaceflight industry? Send Dave Mosher an email at email@example.com or a Twitter direct message at @davemosher. More secure communication options are listed here.SEE ALSO: How Elon Musk's 'UFO on a stick' devices may turn SpaceX internet subscribers into the Starlink satellite network's secret weapon DON'T MISS: Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have profound visions for humanity's future in space. Here's how the billionaires' goals compare. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why NASA waited nearly a decade to send astronauts into space from the US
Like SpaceX, the company aims to build a constellation of internet satellites, but its orbiters could...Like SpaceX, the company aims to build a constellation of internet satellites, but its orbiters could interfere with telescopes on Earth.