Starlink: Here’s How SpaceX Is Building the Next Generation Global Internet

SpaceX is set to build one million terminals to connect people to its Internet satellite network.

SpaceX is taking the next step to deliver high-speed Internet to the world through its satellite constellation, speeding through space just above the planet. Musk’s company has already launched hundreds of satellites into space—part of their Starlink constellation—and their ultimate goal is to provide the planet with high-velocity, next-generation internet.

With performance that far surpasses that of traditional satellite internet, and a global network unbounded by ground infrastructure limitations, Starlink will deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.

The Starlink satellite constellation—operated by SpaceX—will consist of thousands of mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), working in combination with ground transceivers.

This week, Elon Musk’s company received approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FFC) to build 1 million terminals on Earth for its Starlink project. These terminals will be able to receive signals from space and then transmit them to users. According to the report, SpaceX now has “a full license to operate 1,000,000 fixed receiver stations on Earth’s surface that will communicate with the non-geostationary satellite system.”

As revealed by CNET, Musk said that these receivers will look like a “flying saucer on a stick” and will be very easy to install.

“Just connect them and point them to the sky,” Musk explained. The company plans to have as many as 1,500 satellites in orbit by the end of 2020, with a total target of 42,000.

An image of SpaceX's Starlink satellites as they passed above the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Image Credit: NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory / CTIO / AURA / DELVE.
An image of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites as they passed above the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Image Credit: NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory / CTIO / AURA / DELVE.

Despite progress and consistent additions to its constellation, the Starlink project has sparked the anger and criticism of some astronomers, who warn of the implications of filling the sky with so many satellites.

In November, astronomers observing the sky from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile reported about 20 satellites operating as part of Starlink, ruining the exposure and obscuring their images. The researchers were in the middle of a study on the Magellanic Clouds, the dwarf galaxies around the Milky Way, which required long exposures of the night sky when Musk’s satellites flew above the observatory, ruining the study.

As a result, a group has created a petition called “Save Our Stars” asking the public to say no to the irresponsible practice of polluting the sky and astronomical sight. Created by Under Lucky Stars, the petition hopes to obtain 100,000 signatures within the next 30 days for it to reach officials at the White House.

Starlink, SpaceX and how to make it work

SpaceX is already working on reducing the impact its Starlink constellation of satellites will have for astronomers on the ground. In fact, according to reports, on Starlink 2, one of the satellites launched into space, Elon Musk’s Company installed an experimental coating in order to make it less reflective, hoping to impact ground-based astronomical observations less.

According to Musk’s company, SpaceX is targeting service in the Northern U.S. and Canada in 2020, swiftly extending to near-global coverage of the populated world by around 2021-2022.

SpaceX seems to be working on even better solutions. During the latest Starlink satellite lunch, a SpaceX employee revealed that although their coated satellites are showing a notable reduction in brightness, future Starlink satellites will be equipped with a sunshade to further reduce their reflectivity, reducing the impact the satellites will have on Astronomical Observatories.

The company is also working to “keep space clean.” According to Starlink’s website, once the satellites become inoperable, they will use on-board propulsion systems to deorbit over the course of a few months. In the unlikely event that this propulsion system becomes inoperable, the satellites will crash towards Earth and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere within 1 to 5 years.

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