Hi, welcome to another article of The Tech Journal; many of you who are fans of all things space-related or even just following the journey of Space X would have at least heard of Starling, an ambitious plan to revolutionize the way we do think about satellite internet. But today, let’s get into the details. What is Starling? How do you go about building a global broadband internet service in space? And one of the larger implications for SpaceX as a company.
Is Starlink Going to come to India? So, What are Starlink and the arrival of Starlink In India?
What is Starlink?
Let’s take Starlink is a network of orbital satellites. It aims to enable almost anyone anywhere on the planet to have access to a broadband internet connection. The development of Starlink began in 2015; when Elon Musk stated that there was an unmet demand for low-cost global broadband capabilities, he thought that this demand was significant enough to be very profitable.
The prototype satellites were launched into orbit in 2018 with the data space X received; they could fine-tune the technology by January 2021. After about 20 launches spanning three years. Starlink had over 1000 satellites in orbit, and it now serves more than 10,000 customers who are in its beta testing program.
And by May of 2021, Starlink had received over 500,000 orders. So, it is clear that there is indeed demand.
Space X can build 120 satellites per month and wants to release 42,000 satellites by 2027. It is pretty crazy because only about 8000 satellites have been sent into orbit since the Soviet Sputnik mission in 1957 space X president, when Shotwell states that the Starlink quote is best suited to rural and semi-rural populations in places where the Internet is unreliable or unavailable. She stated that Starlink is not a replacement for giant providers like AT&T and Comcast but rather very complementary to the services they provide. Interestingly, the potential for styling to be better than existing ground internet is possible, and we will talk about this later in the episode. Speaking at a satellite conference in April of 2021, Shotwell stated that the company would be, quote, able to serve every rural household in the United States or roughly 60 million people.
Will the hardest to serve customers those telcos otherwise have trouble doing with landlines or even with cell radio stations with themselves cell towers 60 million people is a huge market for just the United States, so there’s a great deal of earning potential here. And if we consider worldwide. The potential user base is massive. These internet-beaming satellites get put into space by Space X is Falcon nine rocket, which usually releases 60 satellites per launch.
So, the customer setup is as follows. The styling hardware includes a satellite dish and a router, which you set up at home to receive space signals.
So why do this all? In short, to make money by solving the problem. Back in 2018, Elon Musk stated that Starlink would help provide SpaceX with the revenue needed to fund the company’s long-term ambition to establish a base on Mars. He estimates that it could generate between 30 to $50 billion in annual revenue by 2025 when the service has over 40 million subscribers. Admittedly, that is a very lofty claim, and we’ll have to see how that pans out.
As for the problems Starlink is trying to solve, laying fiber optic cables is expensive, and infrastructure can be just plain impractical in some areas.
Does Internet Satellite make any sense?
Satellite Internet makes more sense if it can be done cheaply enough. But that’s not to say that building satellite internet is easy. It involves launching rockets into space, after all. But there’s less competition in that sector, and Space X is the best rocket company around reliably delivering payloads into space for many clients at lower costs than anyone else with reusable rockets. Not only this, but the company just took their second crew to the International Space Station, but with a reused capsule and a reused booster. The historical first.
Space X has made rocket launching routine; look no further than their rideshare website, where you can select what payload you want to send into space with the click of a button. So, say that I wanted to send a subscriber to space; they weigh about 90 kilograms. I’ll select that, and there we go. So, with this pedigree in mind, SpaceX is the best company to launch 1000s of satellites cost-effectively.
Each satellite cost about $300,000, a lot cheaper than other communications satellites.
Big because Space X also builds their satellites, they’ve baked in some pretty cool features. For example, the crypto plasma thrusters are just awesome. According to a 2019 space X press release, the thrusters allow the satellites to avoid debris automatically correct their trajectory autonomously. When their time orbiting the Earth is up, they can safely maneuver themselves to self-destruct. By positioning themselves to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. The release also stated, quote, 95% of all the components in the design will quickly burn in the Earth’s atmosphere at the end of each satellite’s lifecycle, exceeding all current safety standards with future iterative designs moving to complete disintegration.
Present Condition of Starlink-
Starlink currently has over 1200 Working satellites in orbit, and by 2025, no less than 11,943 of the satellites will circle the Earth, and as mentioned, the final system will have 40,000 plus satellites. And when this system is completed, it should look something like this. In this animation by Mark Handley, you can see that the satellites will blank Earth.
The first 1500 satellites will operate in orbits of 550 kilometers or 341 miles above the Earth spread in 24 orbital planes inclined at 53 degrees to the equator; even right now, if you head to the satellite tracking website Leo labs, you can see trains or Starling satellite traveling and cress crossing patterns. It’s pretty entertaining.
Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Starlink plans to use laser lights to enable the satellites to communicate with each other. And when the lasers are used to connect satellites to create a true network, styling can be faster than ground internet connections. This is because light travels faster in a vacuum through fiber optic cable; a simulation by Mark Handley calculates latency for styling in a connection from New York to London, a very important one for the global financial system. Starlink latency is under 50 milliseconds, while the current Internet is around 70 milliseconds. And the longer the physical distance, the better it gets. London to Singapore styling 90 milliseconds, current Internet 159 milliseconds.
Okay, so far, all of this sounds slightly amusing or even cool, but you might be thinking, hey, we’ve already had satellite internet for a long time. So, what’s the big deal.
Yes, satellite internet has been around since about 2003, but Starlink is doing it a bit differently. But to understand that, we first need to understand how Satellite Internet came to be.
The idea of satellite internet is almost as old as the Internet itself; it usually hinges on the idea of a geosynchronous satellite, that one orbits the Earth above the equator and remains fixed following the Earth’s rotation. Interestingly, this idea was popularized by the science fiction author Arthur C Clarke, all the way back in 1945 this stationary satellite idea was first done commercially in 1963, and then became adopted for use and television, military, and telecommunications applications from the 1990s when the Internet gained popularity, many tried to take cyberspace up into wealth space. The most prominent effort was the $9 billion failure of tele disk, a project partly funded by Microsoft, to have a constellation of hundreds of low orbiting satellites. The project was eventually abandoned in 2003, but in September of the same year, the first internet-ready satellite for consumers was launched by Utah set the satellite internet before starting it was useful in both rural areas on the ground, and for airlines to allow Internet while flying, but it was slow. Many satellite internet users would know that the speeds aren’t that great, and it’s quite expensive for what you’re getting. And it takes a lot of time for the signal to get up to space and back to Earth again, with average latencies of about 600 milliseconds. And this is where Space X comes in.
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To solve these problems. Space X decided to improve upon existing expectations of satellite connections by placing their satellites in a much lower orbit than traditional methods, sometimes up to 60 times lower. This low orbit approach means less distance for the Starlink signals to travel and thus less latency. Latency plays a huge role in time-sensitive internet applications, like delays and video conversation when video calling or gaming.
Not only this, but SpaceX decided not to go for the geostationary approach. On the plus side. This also reduces latency, but on the other hand, it makes tracking satellites much harder because they’re rapidly moving across the sky instead of hanging stationary overhead. So, here’s a question. How to the Starlink dishes on the ground, track, and receive Internet data from many satellites flying through the sky at a rate of seven kilometers per second. Well, the way they do this is also pretty amazing.
The Starling dish doesn’t physically move across the sky to track all the satellites because that would be ridiculous. Instead, there are hundreds of tiny antennas, creating a phased array.
These signals are processed by a large, integrated circuit, which intelligently adds them because the beam has moved digitally rather than physically; it can be scanned so fast that it can accurately follow any satellite moving across the sky. If the first satellite gets too close to the horizon or is obstructed, it can also be refocused instantaneously at another satellite. Technically, you’d be able to use one of these in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and still be fine. This setup is called a phased array antenna, and it has its origins in military use and is traditionally very expensive. So, for SpaceX to bring this technology down to the consumer level is pretty outstanding.
So, the question must be asked. Yes, sir, Starlink is doing all this fancy stuff. But how’s it better than state of the art, where we’re targeting latency below 20 milliseconds.
So, somebody could play a fast response video game at a competitive level, like that’s the threshold for latency. According to Ars Technical, the average Satellite Internet has a latency of 638 milliseconds. And according to CNET, the average download speeds range from 25 megabits per second to around 100 megabits per second. In its early stages, Starling has the following performance, according to beta testers, between 50 and 175 megabits per second with a latency of about 20 to 40 milliseconds.
Linus’ tech tips in his testing got about 138 megabits per second download and 27 milliseconds latency. According to Space X, speeds should improve as more satellites get launched. The network gets filled out; the target speed will be 1000 megabits per second, or one gigabit per second for context in Perth, Australia. I get about 17 megabits per second and 50 milliseconds latency, and I’m a three-minute drive away from the CBD. Still, I guess that’s just Australian Internet for the back to Starlink; they state that some interruptions in connectivity are to be expected in these early stages.
So, what about bad weather. Well, that’s one of the downsides of satellite internet. As per starlings FAQ, the satellite dish can melt snow that gaps on it. Still, it can’t do anything about snow build-up on either side or obstructions that might block the satellite’s line of sight. It also reads, quote, heavy rain or wind can also affect satellite internet connection, potentially leading to slower speeds or a rare outage in the quote.
What about the cost. Well, the styling service isn’t exactly cheap on top of a $99 per month subscription fee; the customers must also pay $499 for the satellite dish and the Wi-Fi router. But after knowing about the technology inside of the dish, that kind of price is expected. The Space X president can show the upfront equipment costs to come down to, quote, the few $100 range within the next year or two.
So, we’re almost at the end of this article, but before we end, let’s take a quick look at the competition. So, a company called one Webb, which Airbus and Richard Branson back has launched a few satellites for their global Internet, but filed for bankruptcy in 2020, though they recently have secured $1.4 billion in new funding. And then there’s Amazon’s coupon, which is backed by the fortunes of billionaire Jeff Bezos, and they’re looking to join the race to provide broadband services from satellite constellations. But if you ask me, I think SpaceX is miles ahead here, though it has to be mentioned that there are some negatives to this project; astronomers complain of light pollution caused by Starlink satellites, painting the satellites Black has been proposed. But some argue that this isn’t enough. The other main issue is if something goes wrong in orbit, say a tiny piece of debris is coming for the Starlink satellite. The satellite can’t use its thrusters to get out of the way in time, resulting in a cascading event where collisions occur from too many satellites in low orbit. The probability of this happening depends on how good the autonomous systems are on the starling satellites; if they are as good as claimed, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Starlink in India: Expanding Its Presence –
SpaceX Starlink project will help improve the quality of its infrastructure. There is an era when the Indian satellite broadband market is heating up with the major telecom players such as Bharti Global’s OneWeb and Jeff Bezos’s Amazon’s Project Kuiper trying to grab the largest share from the space SpaceX shaking the hands of local Indian companies is a significant step towards. Additionally, it comes at a crucial moment – SpaceX will be planning to roll out its ultra-fast Internet next year and open pre-booking. This is crucial when the possibility of collaborating with Indian companies to manufacture locally-made satellite components will provide the space industry with a huge boost.
It is worth noting this: the SpaceX Starlink in India is currently one of the strongest satellite networks; in addition, SpaceX plans to extend it by 12000 satellites. It is interesting that the entire network is located very close to Earth in orbit and could offer extremely high-speed Internet.
So, what about the implications for SpaceX. For SpaceX, Starlink is very interesting because the system’s performance holds its own and is only set to get much better over time. In other words, much of the value of the system is in the future. Suppose the speed of the satellite system is anything like the simulation that Mark Hanley calculates having internet speeds better than ground Internet, being able to be anywhere in the world, and receiving a signal would feel like living the future. In that case, the Starlink system is a huge feat. Still, if all works out well and it turns out to be profitable, it could spell a bright future for Space X. Although we should probably be skeptical of that $50 billion annual revenue by 2025, even half of that is great. And Elon does think that this is going to be massively profitable. After all, he has tweeted that styling might be his spin-off IPO. So, watch this space.
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