How Elon Musk’s Satellite Internet Works

When you talk about billionaire Elon Musk, chances are you think of electric car company Tesla, his space exploration company SpaceX, or his attempted takeover of Twitter. Perhaps something you may be less familiar with is Starlink, a company that aims to sell internet connections through a growing network of private satellites. But how does Starlink work?

Visiting Brazil on May 20, 2022, the tycoon met Jair Bolsonaro and then announced through his Twitter account that his business will operate in the country. “Super excited to be in Brazil for the launch of Starlink in 19,000 unconnected schools in rural areas and also for environmental monitoring in the Amazon,” Musk said in the post.

But Starlink has its controversies. Members of the scientific community have raised concerns about the impact of Starlink’s low Earth orbit satellites on the visibility of the night sky. Meanwhile, satellite internet rivals including Viasat, HughesNet and Amazon’s Project Kuiper have also taken note of Starlink’s push, sparking regulatory tussles and attempts to slow down Musk.

But what is Starlink and how does it work

Technically, Starlink is a division of SpaceX, as well as being the name of the company’s growing spaceflight network – or “constellation” – of orbiting satellites. The development of this network began in 2015, with the launch of the first satellite prototypes in 2018.

Over the next few years, SpaceX deployed thousands of Starlink satellites to the constellation in dozens of successful launches, the most recent of which took place on April 21 and delivered 53 more satellites to low Earth orbit. This brings the total number of satellites launched to 2,388, of which more than 2,000 appear to be operational elements of the constellation.

Starlink how does it work? And can these satellites connect my house to the Internet? That’s the idea, yes.

Like existing satellite internet providers like HughesNet or Viasat, Starlink wants to sell internet access, especially to people in rural areas and other parts of the world who don’t yet have broadband access. debit.

SpaceX’s Starlink hardware includes a satellite dish and a router, which you’ll set up at home to receive the signal from space. The latest version of the dish, seen here, is cheaper for SpaceX to produce, and more design improvements could be on the way in 2022.

“Starlink is ideal for areas of the globe where connectivity has traditionally been a challenge,” reads the Starlink website. “Without the limitations of traditional terrestrial infrastructure, Starlink can deliver high-speed Internet access to places where access has been unreliable or completely unavailable.”

All you have to do to establish the connection is to install a small satellite dish in your house to receive the signal and transmit the bandwidth to your router. The company offers several mounting options for rooftops, backyards, and the exterior of your home. There’s even a Starlink app for Android and iOS that uses augmented reality to help customers choose the best location and position for their receivers.

How much does Starlink love you?

The cost of the service was initially billed at $99 per month, plus taxes and fees, plus an upfront payment of $499 for the satellite dish and router you’ll need to install at home. In March 2022, and despite SpaceX executives’ previous predictions that hardware costs would decline over time, SpaceX raised those prices to $110 per month and $599 upfront for hardware.

The price is high for an internet connection, especially one that isn’t as fast as a fiber connection, but Musk is betting the cost will be worth it for people who have so far lived without access to a connection. reliable and fast, so some .

Where is Starlink available – Starlink how it works

According to Musk, the list of countries currently served by the growing network of low-Earth orbit satellites includes the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Portugal, Australia and New Zealand. . . Starlink’s pre-order deal also includes service order options in other countries, including Italy, Poland, Spain and Chile.

There’s still a long way to go – Starlink will likely need at least 10,000 satellites in orbit before it can offer full service to most of the globe (and SpaceX has shown signs it wants up to 42,000 satellites in the constellation). Right now, that’s only about 20% of the way, at best, with coverage focused on regions between 45 and 53 degrees north latitude.

Still, Musk is optimistic about Starlink’s timeline. During an interview at Mobile World Congress 2021, Musk said that Starlink will be available worldwide except for the North and South Poles starting in August. In early June, Shotwell expressed a similar sentiment and said Starlink would reach global availability this fall.

“We’ve successfully deployed about 1,800 satellites, and when all of those satellites reach operational orbit, we’ll have continued global coverage, so it should look like the September deadline,” he said.

Why satellites? Isn’t fiber faster?

Fiber, or the internet delivered via fiber optic cable to the ground, offers download and upload speeds that are actually much faster than satellite internet – but as companies like Google will tell you, it doesn’t. There’s nothing fast about deploying the infrastructure needed to bring fiber to people. houses. That’s not to say there’s nothing simple about launching satellites into space, but with fewer sharp competitors – and far less bureaucracy to contend with – there’s reason to believe that services like Starlink will reach places without internet long before fiber.

And remember, this is Elon Musk we’re talking about. SpaceX is the only company in the world with a reusable, landable rocket capable of delivering payload after payload to orbit. This is a big advantage in the race for commercial space. Additionally, Musk said in 2018 that Starlink would help provide SpaceX with the revenue it needed to fund the company’s longstanding ambition to establish a base on Mars.

If that day comes, it’s also likely that SpaceX will also try to establish a constellation of satellites on the Red Planet. This means that Starlink’s customers potentially serve as guinea pigs for the Martian wireless networks of the future.

“If you’re sending a million people to Mars, you better provide some form of communication,” Shotwell said in 2016, speaking of the company’s long-term vision for Starlink. “I don’t think people going to Mars will be satisfied with some old-fashioned radios. They will want their iPhones or Androids on Mars.

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