Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, plans to connect humanity via satellite connectivity. The company did a few tests earlier this year by sending out two prototype satellites. The relatively quiet project included sending out a lard Paz telecommunications satellite and two smaller satellites, namely Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b.
The project has been called Starlink and is a new kind of satellite broadband internet service. Most other satellite internet services, like Viasat, rely on a number of large satellites. Data travels back and forth between these satellites and earth, allowing the internet to come to thousands of people located mainly in rural areas. This unfortunately causes high levels of latency, however, Starlink hopes to change that.
The idea behind Starlink is to place satellites at a lower orbit than the ones being used today to cut down latency. However, having them closer to the Earths surface means that they will reach smaller areas so more are needed to connect the planet.
SpaceX has declined to elaborate on the project, but Musk has tweeted about it. The application to the communication commission outlines their plans to deploy about 4500 satellites just over 1100kms from the Earth’s surface. SpaceX has, however, commented that it will provide capacity where it is needed.
SpaceX isn’t alone in this journey. Companies such as Globalstar and Iridium have been operating low orbiting satellites for voice services for many years. This plan from Musk is just “more”. To make this work, SpaceX has included laser tech that will allow the satellites to communicate with each other. The launch of the prototypes marks the start of laser communications in space.
Some competitors have filed complaints that the massive satellite constellation will create interference with other satellites in orbit. SpaceX has responded saying that that shouldn’t be a problem. However, over 10 000 satellites in orbit sounds quite messy.
It will take time for all satellites and approval from the Communication Commission so we won’t be accessing the Starlink network anytime soon.