SpaceX has launched hundreds of Starlink satellites for its high-speed internet service, breaking rocket records as it delivers the service to more homes.
On May 9, the company launched the 28th batch of satellites using a Falcon 9 rocket, lifting off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The mission was the first time that SpaceX had flown the same booster 10 times, an impressive feat that enables SpaceX’s long-term goal of reducing the cost of rocket flights.
The additional satellites bring forward the company’s goal of high-speed, low-latency internet almost anywhere in the world.
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What is SpaceX Starlink?
Starlink is a satellite internet service, developed by SpaceX, designed to offer higher speeds and faster response times than other satellite internet services. Users in supported areas will be able to point a dish at the sky to get online, regardless of local internet infrastructure.
SpaceX previously warned beta testers that current coverage will likely only provide speeds of up to 150 megabits per second. A 2016 filing claimed the company was aiming to eventually reach speeds of one gigabit per second. A January 2021 presentation slide teased the firm wants to reach up to 10 gigabits per second.
The service is also designed to offer faster response times than other satellite services. A 2013 analysis found that competing services would offer latencies — or speed delays caused by intricacies of satellite communication — of around 638 miliseconds, 20 times slower than ground-based connections. SpaceX’s 2016 filing claimed it was aiming for between 25 to 35 miliseconds.
It achieves these faster response times compared to competitors by orbiting a larger number of satellites closer to the Earth, at around 550 kilometers (340 miles) altitude. The company filed for permission with the International Telecommunication Union back in October 2019 to launch 30,000 satellites into space on top of the 12,000 approved by the United States’ Federal Communications Commission.
That means it could eventually reach a size of 42,000 satellites in total. For comparison, there were only around 5,000 satellites in the sky total at the start of 2019.
The project could prove one of SpaceX's most lucrative projects. Previous analysis shows the entire space launch industry only brings in around $5 billion in revenue. But the internet access market is worth around $1 trillion, meaning if Starlink can capture between three and five percent of the market, it can greatly eclipse its existing industries.
One thing Starlink won't want to eclipse is astronomers' work – even with the limited constellation in the sky, some experts have said the planned mega-constellation is already blocking their view.
SpaceX Starlink: where is it available?
The “Better Than Nothing” beta service is currently available in 10 countries:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
- The Netherlands
SpaceX has been expanding its coverage areas within these countries. In November 2020, the company explained how it grants coverage based on hexagonal cells:
Reddit users have been collecting reports based on where beta testers live. At the time of writing, the data suggests that beta testers live within the 33.6 degree and 54.9 degree lines of latitude.
SpaceX Starlink: how do I sign up?
SpaceX offers a straightforward means of signing up for the service. Visit the website, linked here, and enter your desired service address. Choose your address from the list of suggested addresses — the form won’t work unless you choose a suggested address — and press the “Order Now” button to confirm.
If you don’t live at a traditional address, you can input a “Plus Code” to pinpoint your location on a map:
- Open the Google Maps website or app.
- Navigate to the correct location. Then tap and hold the screen if using a touchscreen device, or click and hold if using a mouse.
- Press the "dropped in" label near the bottom.
- The Plus Code will appear on the list of information next to a "+" symbol. For example, the Plus Code for Buckingham Palace is "GV25+G6 London".
- Copy the information and paste it into the Starlink form.
SpaceX Starlink: what is the price of the service?
SpaceX currently charges a $499 one-off fee for the Starlink Kit, which includes everything you need to connect your devices to the internet. Users will also pay a $99 per month ongoing fee.
Tesla North reported in November 2020 that beta testers in Canada are paying CA$649 (US$510) for the Starlink Kit. The service costs CA$129 (US$101) per month. Teslarati reported in January 2021 that users in the United Kingdom pay £439 ($596) for the Starlink Kit, while the service costs £89 ($121) per month.
Customers in other countries should expect similar prices. In February 2021, Musk posted on Twitter that Starlink is “meant to be the same price in all countries.” He added that “Starlink is a staggeringly difficult technical & economic endeavor. However, if we don’t fail, the cost to end users will improve every year.”
Users may also have to pay shipping and handling fees for the kit as well as sales tax.
SpaceX Starlink: when will it be available in my area?
Starlink has been available to an increasingly large group of people. Musk claimed to send a tweet through the service in October 2019.
Starlink’s website claims it is “now delivering initial beta service both domestically and internationally, and will continue expansion to near global coverage of the populated world in 2021.”
Beta testers in the northern contiguous United States started receiving their kits in October 2020. CBC reported about Canadians receiving their beta testing kits in December 2020. The first beta testing kits reached users in southern England just before the end of 2020.
SpaceX has gradually expanded its areas of coverage over time. On March 10, users in the United Kingdom received an email announcing that service is “now available in parts of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and northern England.”
For visitors in the U.S. and Canada not currently served by the Starlink beta, the website normally suggests it will start offering coverage from mid to late 2021. The main exceptions are Alaska and Hawaii, which show up as targeting coverage for 2022.
Musk posted on Twitter in February 2021 that Starlink is aiming to cover “most of Earth by end of year, all by next year, then it’s about densifying coverage.”
A key question for other countries will be regulatory approval. That could influence where it operates.
CNBC reported on public records in January 2021 that show where the company is registered. The firm has registered in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa and Spain. Bloomberg reported that same month that Germany, Greece, and Australia have already approved the service.
Since these articles were published, SpaceX has indeed rolled out coverage to Australia, Austria, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.
Issues with national governments have caused headaches for satellite operators in the past. Reuters reported in October 2018 that Russia had voiced opposition to OneWeb's plans to offer internet access to remote parts of the country, citing security concerns. The company submitted but then withdrew an application to operate in the country in August 2019.
Near-global coverage by 2021? While it may be possible on a technical level, in terms of actual deployment a number of factors could influence the real launch date in each jurisdiction.
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