Known for his ambitious plans, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is now trying to bring internet to the entire world. In 2018, SpaceX launched its first test rockets into orbit under the project called Starlink. The goal was to assess the continued feasibility of launching thousands of satellites into low-Earth orbit, which would deliver internet across the globe and make it accessible — eventually — to just about everyone.
Musk’s initial goal was to create a network of 4,000 satellites, but that number later grew to 12,000. In May 2019, Starlink launched its first 60 internet satellites into orbit. The mission was a success, and the satellites made it into orbit at an altitude of 340 miles, which is much closer than satellites from other internet providers. This means the eventual
users of the new network can expect relatively high speeds. As of this writing, there are 422 Starlink satellites in orbit.
Until this project came online, satellite internet was notorious for being slow. This is due, in part, to the locations of traditional provider’s satellites. One current provider’s satellites are orbiting 22,236 miles from Earth. This distance helps maximize coverage, at the expense of speed, and it was established when there were relatively few internet satellites.
Because there will be so many Starlink satellites, they can be closer to Earth to eliminate coverage gaps. The satellites are fairly small and efficient. According to Sky & Telescope magazine, each Starlink satellite weighs 500 pounds and is the size of an average four-person dinner table.
Musk believes satellites make more sense than traditional means of delivering internet. For one, there is no need to lay down cables, which can be costly, especially when installing in rural or underdeveloped areas. In some rural areas in the
U.S., laying cable is outright cost-prohibitive, as the bill may fall to one person or family who wants internet access on their property.
The Starlink network is far from being completed, and coverage is currently extremely limited. Musk anticipates the network will be able to deliver “moderate” coverage once it reaches about 800 satellites in orbit. SpaceX has previously stated that they expect to start offering broadband services in the U.S. and Canada in late 2020. As the network grows in 2021, the company will start offering its satellite internet service globally.
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