StarLink Satellites: Fuelling Elon Musk's Dream Of Multi Planetary Existence

Mayukh Bari21 August 2020 1:27PM IST
4 min read330

Imagine you are in a forest in the middle of nowhere. There is no wifi, no cell phone service or any way to communicate with the outside world. Only fate can help you in a situation like that until now.

SpaceX has been launching StarLink satellites into orbits since 2019. It's Elon Musk's ambitious project to provide high-speed internet anywhere - even to the most remote location in the world. The goal is to connect the planet by delivering internet to places where its unreliable, expensive or just not available. But StarLink is also being created for another reason. There is a bigger purpose behind it.

SpaceX is using its Falcon 9 rocket to launch about 60 StarLink satellites at once. The satellites are stacked on top of each other. The satellites are placed at a relatively low altitude in the space because low altitude means low latency. Latency is the delay between the source and the destination of a signal. Low latency of less than 20ms will give you the power to perform tasks like remotely control a machine in real-time, play competitive games more efficiently.

1,000 satellites will be enough for such operation. But SpaceX plans to send 12,000 satellites into the orbit. As of June 2020, they have a total of 540 satellites orbiting the planet. If you compare the number of StarLink satellites with other satellites, you will be astonished. Around 2,000 satellites are operating right now among the total of 5,000 satellites. What SpaceX is trying to achieve is unprecedented.

Why does SpaceX require so many satellites? SpaceX satellites are orbiting at a very low altitude. For this they can not be stationary - they have to move faster to maintain their orbit, covering a much smaller area.

But there is an issue with this amount of satellites. Experts are speculating a significant increase in light pollution. As those satellites are very low in orbit, one can easily see them in night sky even without any telescope. SpaceX already tried to address this issue. The included sunshades in their latest batch of satellites to reduce reflection.

But what will happen to countries with restrictions on the internet? Since a country simply can not stop SpaceX satellites to hover over them, SpaceX will have a feature to block StarLink signals on specific regions. A country like China can simply jam the signal from the satellites or take it one step further as Elon said,

If they get upset with us, they can blow our satellites up which wouldn't be good... China can do that. So probably we shouldn't broadcast there.

StarLink hope to begin service with North America first starting with Northern US and Canada in 2020 and then expanding to nearly everywhere in the world by 2021.

If you are living in a large city, StarLinkis not necessarily replace your internet provider. StarLink is not intended to be used in the high-density area because it doesn't have sufficient bandwidth. The focus is on reaching places where we don't have coverage. The company did not reveal any pricing of their internet service but SpaceX estimates StarLink will eventually bring in $30 billion a year.

StarLink will help the development of Elon Musk's dream of creating Mars a habitable planet. SpaceX also has a plan to develop the same satellite network system on the red planet. So StarLink is not just a stand-alone project, it's a piece of a puzzle leading to a larger goal - starting human civilization on another planet.