Elon Musk has always been known for his eccentric ideas and they are often so far-reaching and innovative that people don’t believe he’ll actually follow through on them—at least not in the way he does.
When Elon Musk announced Starlink, it was just more of the same. It sounded like another quirky idea, but this time with a twist. Some people even dismissed it as a PR stunt, and others thought there was no way it could possibly succeed given the current limitations of space technology.
Now that we know more about Starlink and its development, it seems they were all wrong…again. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about Elon Musk’s Starlink project, how it became a reality, and what it means for space exploration moving forward.
What is Starlink?
Starlink refers to the development of thousands of satellites that are being put into low-Earth orbit as a way to provide internet and communications services across the globe.
This system will be made up of small satellites that will be used to bypass internet issues and other problems that plague both developed and developing countries. The project was first announced in 2016 and, since then, SpaceX has been creating what it calls “the most sophisticated and largest new commercial satellite constellation in history.”
As of 2019, the company has created over 2,000 satellites, with plans to launch 16,000 more in the coming years. The network will be made up of 80 satellites in low Earth orbit, 12,000 satellites in mid-Earth orbit, and 1,800 satellites in geostationary orbit.
The low-Earth orbit satellites will help to provide internet access to remote areas while the mid-Earth satellites will deliver high-speed broadband to urban areas. The geostationary satellites will help to bridge the two networks together.
How Does Starlink Work?
Planning and implementing the Starlink network started in 2016, with the first test satellites launched in 2017. However, a Falcon 9 rocket explosion at Cape Canaveral put that mission on hold, causing delays to the development of Starlink.
A second launch was scheduled for February 2018, but once again, the mission was put on hold due to inclement weather. The third launch occurred in March 2019, and the rest of the satellites were sent out at regular intervals to complete the network.
Once the network is fully operational, it will be capable of providing internet access to billions of people across the globe.
Why is Starlink Important?
The internet has become a fundamental part of modern life. It is used for everything from staying in touch with friends and family to researching information, finding new hobbies, managing finances, and even procuring employment, not to mention the vast array of political aspects.
If you don’t have internet access, you are essentially cut off from the world, but this is a reality, particularly in the developing world. In places like Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America, many don’t have Internet access. That’s about two-thirds of the world population. Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem that can be fixed by simply installing more internet cables. The issue is that there aren’t enough satellites in orbit to provide the coverage needed.
The Problems With the Current System
Communications satellites are designed to orbit at 22369.37 miles above the surface of the Earth, with the International Space Station orbiting at just 248.5 miles above the planet’s surface.
This means that the satellites are out of reach for most people on the ground. Therefore, if someone wants to use a satellite for anything, they need to be connected to a nearby ground station.
There are around 1,800 ground stations currently in operation around the world, but they can’t cover the entire planet. As a result, there are large parts of Africa and South America that don’t have any access to satellites. Even within these areas, coverage is patchy at best.
If you look at a map of satellite coverage in South America, you’ll notice that many places are completely blacked out. This is because there needs to be a clear line of sight between the ground station and the satellite. If a mountain or a building gets in the way, it will completely block the signal. So even if you have a satellite available, it may not be able to provide you with a decent internet connection.
Will People Actually Use It?
It is estimated that SpaceX will have to deal with around 700,000 pieces of space debris when they finally launch all the satellites. But despite this, the company has already sold $1 billion in services to two unnamed customers, and is expected to launch thousands of satellites in the coming years.
This is a good sign, particularly since the two customers have remained anonymous until now. While it is impossible to know for sure if people will use the network once it is launched, we can take a look at similar projects in the past to get an idea of the potential for success. For example, Inmarsat, a British satellite telecommunications company, launched a network of satellites in the late 80’s. At the time, the idea of being able to communicate with each other from the middle of the ocean seemed like science fiction. However, the system was so successful that it has been used ever since. The company has over 19 million subscribers and a market capitalization of $14 billion. It has become so successful that it is now “a world-leading provider of global mobile services.”
Starlink is a huge project that will see thousands of satellites put into low-Earth orbit as a way to provide internet and communications services across the globe. Elon Musk introduced the project in 2016 and since then his company has been developing what they call “the most sophisticated and largest new commercial satellite constellation in history.” There are still challenges that need to be overcome, particularly in terms of dealing with space debris. But if everything goes to plan, this will be the start of a new era in the way we access the internet.