Starlink, SpaceX's under-development internet connectivity constellation, is taking on a beta test.
The company has been launching batches of around 60 satellites per launch since May 2019, intended to orbit at a comparatively low 550 kilometers above the Earth. SpaceX has applied for permission to launch up to 42,000 Starlink satellites, far greater than the approximately 5,000 that were orbiting at the start of 2019. The end goal is gigabit internet speeds with latency in the tens of milliseconds, a fast and responsive connection that could feel similar to a ground-based broadband connection. All the user will need, SpaceX claims, is a terminal and a view of the sky.
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SpaceX has launched nine batches of satellites so far, and this month it updated its website to provide details about a beta test service. A select few users will be invited to use the nascent service, enabling engineers to tweak the offering so it's ready for more consumers.
The end result could be a service that enables rural and remote communities to get online with speed. The funds from the service could be used to find SpaceX's more ambitious ideas, like a city on Mars by 2050.
SpaceX Starlink beta: how will the test work?
These details may be subject to change – one claim made by the page is that users will agree to a non-disclosure agreement, meaning they will not be allowed to share details of their beta experience publicly.
The page, and an accompanying publicly-visible terms of service page, explains that users will be expected to use the service for 30 minutes to one hour per day on average. They will have to provide feedback regularly, which could include surveys, phone calls or other forms like emails. The beta test is aimed at fine-tuning the service, so it's perhaps no surprise that SpaceX claims you could have your service terminated if you don't provide feedback.
These surveys will take place over an eight-week period of testing. SpaceX warns that the service may be intermittent as engineers make changes, meaning it won't be suitable for video games or work.
SpaceX will send a pre-assembled kit via FedEx, which comes with a dish, power supply, router and mount. Users will have to install the mount themselves.
There are four possible mount options. A ridgeline mount will take up to 40 minutes to install and will need the user to carry 50 pounds of ballast. A lawn mount will take up to 10 minutes to install and require the same amount of ballast. A volcano mount will take up to two hours and depends on the user knowing how to attach it to the edge of their roof themselves. A fourth option ships without any mounts, for locations where it is unnecessary.
There is no minimum length contract, and users can quit the program any time.
SpaceX Starlink beta: how much will it cost?
The uncovered documents are contradictory on this point. The frequently asked questions page and billing page claim there is a one-off $1 charge to test the billing system. The terms of service claim the test charge is $3 upfront, then $2 per month, charged via credit or debit card.
All documents stress that this is not a charge for the Starlink beta service and is merely used for testing the billing systems. Pricing for the final service remains unclear.
SpaceX Starlink: is the beta coming to my area?
The documents explain that the beta service will come to the northern United States and lower Canada. The current constellation offers service between 44 and 52 degrees latitude.
Users will need to have a clear view of the northern sky to be eligible. They will also be chosen based on how many users are in their area.
SpaceX Starlink beta: how do I sign up?
Users can register their interest in the service by providing their email and home address to the Starlink website.