Starlink is SpaceX’s growing network, or “constellation” of orbital satellites. The development of the network began in 2015, with the first prototype satellites launched into orbit in 2018. Since then, SpaceX has deployed over 1,000 Starlink satellites into orbit across more than 20 successful launches. In January, for its first Starlink mission of 2021, SpaceX launched 60 satellites into orbit from Kennedy Space Center. Subsequent launches, including four in February, two of which have already been completed successfully, will bring the total number of satellites launched to 1,265. After years of development and securing nearly $885.5 million in grant funds from the Federal Communications Commission at the end of 2020, Starlink’s progress seems to be advancing in 2021.
The goal is to create a high-speed broadband system generated by satellites which envelop Earth and provide internet to people especially in rural areas without connection. SpaceX plans to have up to 42,000 satellites in orbit by mid-2027. As stated on their website, “Starlink is ideally suited for areas of the globe where connectivity has typically been a challenge. Unbounded by traditional ground infrastructure, Starlink can deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable or completely unavailable.” In the past two weeks, SpaceX’s Starlink internet has reached more than 10,000 users worldwide and started offering $99 preorders of the service to more countries and cities globally. Starlink’s public beta test, known as “Better Than Nothing Beta,” launched in October and has been a big hit with those living in remote areas of northern US, where it was first rolled out.
Getting set up is quite simple, all you need to make the connection is set up a small satellite dish at your home to receive the signal and pass the bandwidth on to your router. Aside from the $99 monthly payment, the initial cost for the satellite and router is $499. Starlink also offers an app for Android and IOS that uses augmented reality to help customers pick the best location and position for their receivers. Unlike past satellite internet providers, having the ability to set the receiver up independently is a huge plus. A common downside to conventional satellite internet is bad weather and other obstructions interfering with the signal, SpaceX appears to have overcome some of this. The compact satellite dish can do more than just pick-up signals, it is also capable of melting snow that lands on top of it. While it cannot do anything about surrounding snow, installing it in a position free from obstruction should limit room for error or outage.
All in all, Starlink’s future is looking bright. In December, the company connected up Pikangikum First Nation, a remote 3,000-person indigenous community in north-western Ontario, to Starlink. Before internet access, Pikangikum could not offer higher education or healthcare, struggling to keep up with the modern world. Now, the remote community has access to everything. So far, the expanding network has accomplished exactly what they said they would. Starlink is proving to be the internet of the future, offering insanely fast upload and download speeds. With little competition in this niche sector, Starlink is only going up from here. SpaceX is the only company on the planet with a landable, reusable rocket capable of delivering payload after payload into orbit. This is a huge advantage in the commercial space race.
The long-term plan for Starlink is to help provide SpaceX with revenue needed to fund the company’s long-held ambition to establish a base on Mars. Speaking on the company’s long-term vision for Starlink, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stated, “If you send a million people to Mars, you better provide some way for them to communicate. I don’t think the people who go to Mars are going to be satisfied with some terrible, old-fashioned radios. They’ll want their iPhones or Androids on Mars.” While Starlink is establishing itself on earth, it is also making steps to being the first internet provider on Mars. While humanity is ways away from reaching the neighboring red planet, SpaceX is proving that we may not be as far as we think.