SpaceX plans to provide high-speed Internet access anywhere globally by sending thousands of Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbits.
Nearly 3 billion people, or about 40% of the world’s population, have access to the internet. Of the current 4.5 billion subscribers, many do not have access to high-speed, cheap, high-quality internet. That’s why the news of the arrival of Starlink satellite internet has given many users hope.
In this article, we will learn more about satellite internet and especially the Starlink SpaceX project.
Satellite internet is not a new phenomenon and some companies offer satellite internet services right now. The largest satellite internet providers currently available are ViaSat and HughesNet. It is interesting to know that both of these companies introduced their satellite internet service for the first time in 2012, and HughesNet has 1.3 million subscribers in the United States.
But why is the story different this time around, and the whole world is eagerly following the news of the Starlink project and eagerly awaiting the launch of the SpaceX satellite internet?
The answer to the above question lies in the difference between the Starlink satellite system and other internet satellite systems:
One of the most important disadvantages of satellite internet has been its very high latency and limited service to a particular country or continent.
The reason for this long delay and geographical constraint is that satellite internet service providers have previously placed their satellites in fixed orbit or GEO. The rotation speed of the satellites in this orbit is equal to the rotation speed of the earth around it. As a result, the satellite remains practically fixed at a fixed point in the sky from the point of view of the terrestrial observer.
Also, the 35,000 km altitude of the orbit of these satellites makes the internet latency they provide reach 550 milliseconds at best and up to 600 milliseconds in practice. Such delays make traditional satellite internet services very unsuitable or even practically unusable for applications such as audio-visual communication and video games.
But Starlink satellites are supposed to be in low-Earth orbit or LEO with an altitude of 500 km in the first phase and 300 km in the next phases (i.e. 70 to 100 times closer than the GEO orbiting satellites). This makes Starlink satellite internet latency theoretically even less than fibre optics.
How is it possible for a signal that goes into space and back to earth to reach its destination faster than a signal that travels a shorter path within a fibre optic? The answer lies in the difference between the speed of light and electromagnetic waves in glass (fibre optics) and vacuum: the speed of light in fibre optics is only two-thirds the speed of electromagnetic waves in a vacuum.
According to the results of recently published speed tests, it has been determined that the Starlink Internet latency is currently between 30 and 90 milliseconds, and some users have even reported latency of 20 and 21 milliseconds.
Elon Musk had previously said that with the implementation of the next phase, the Starlink latency could be reduced to 8 milliseconds. This means that for the first time, satellite internet can be used for applications such as voice and video calls and video games.
Another disadvantage of satellite internet before was the small number of satellites in orbit, which forced many users to share the bandwidth of a satellite with each other, thus, reducing the speed of satellite internet subscribers. The small number of satellites also limits the number of potential users.
For example, even if ViaSat and HughesNet had global coverage, they could not serve tens or hundreds of millions to prevent a sharp drop in speed.
SpaceX, however, plans to send many more satellites into space to deliver the internet. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX will increase the number of active satellites in orbit to more than a thousand with at least 10 more launches this year. By the end of the first phase, the number of SpaceX satellites will be more than 4,000, and finally, the total number of satellites will reach an incredible 40,000.
For the first time in 2018, SpaceX sent two telecommunications satellites, Tintin A and Tintin B, into low-Earth orbit to test satellite internet. After conducting various tests, SpaceX launched its own satellite production line in Redmond, Washington, to launch the first shipment of 60 Starlink satellites in mid-2019 called v0.9 (read WePoint) or the ninth version.
Slowly, this group of 60 was also an experiment and is now obsolete and will enter the earth’s atmosphere over time.
SpaceX launched the first 60 payloads of Starlink 1 operational satellites into space shortly after the end of 2019, and from that date until the writing of this article, it has orbited 14 Falcon 9 rockets before 800 Starlink 1 satellites in orbit. The earth is put.
Each Starlink satellite weighs 227 kg and provides a maximum bandwidth of 20 Gbps. SpaceX has taken a number of innovations to build Starlinks, each of which may require a separate article to fully explain. Therefore, we will briefly mention the most important specifications and features of Starlink satellites.
All the features and specifications of Starlink satellites are primarily designed to lower the final price of the satellite, not to be revolutionary and first. There are already satellites in orbit with similar or more advanced technologies than Starlink, but none of them is comparable in price to Starlink.
For example, Iridium satellites (which previously held the record for the cheapest commercial satellites) cost $5 million per satellite, while the cost of Starlink satellites is estimated to be 20 times cheaper and only $250,000 per satellite.
For the first time in history, the space company is mass-producing satellites on the factory production line. This greatly reduces the final cost of the satellite, which was previously built individually and in a laboratory. SpaceX currently produces 120 satellites per month (4 satellites per day).
Starlink satellites are also the first satellites to use krypton ion motors to propel themselves into orbit. Xenon gas has been used to fuel ion engines in satellites in the past, but although it performs better than krypton in ion engines, its price is much higher.
Unlike other satellites, Starlink satellites have a solar panel on one side only. But the same panel is so large that their total area per 60 launches is larger than the total area of the International Space Station’s solar panels. Using only one integrated panel on one side of the satellite is another solution that helps to simplify the manufacturing process, make it easier to open the satellite in orbit, and ultimately lower the cost.
To connect to satellite internet, including Starlink, the user must use special antennas. Contrary to popular belief, there is no 4G or 5G satellite internet that can be easily connected to a phone without any special equipment, nor will it be available in the near future.
Starlink uses special antennas called Phased Array Antennas to send and receive data both on the satellite and on the user side. An interesting feature of these antennas is that they can send their signals in the frequency band Ku and Ka in different directions without the need for physical rotation, just by using the ability to intercept waves.
Elon Musk had previously said that Starlink antennas are the size of a pizza, but as leaked videos showed some time ago, the size of American pizza seems to be much larger than the rest of the world.
As we have said, due to the nature of fuzzy array antennas, there is no need to set them in a specific direction. However, once installed, the antenna automatically adjusts its position only to the part of the sky where Starlink has the largest number of satellites or the part that has the least physical barrier between the antenna and the sky.
Setting up the system required to use Starlink satellite internet is supposed to be as simple as possible for the user to have a so-called plug and play experience. According to Elon Musk, the steps to set up the Starlink internet are as follows: