Starlink, a satellite internet access provider, recently launched an additional 52 satellites with the help of a Falcon9 rocket from its parent firm, SpaceX, in order to expand satellite internet connection to more places on the planet. Starlink has reached the significant milestone of deploying 3,400 satellites, which now provide internet access to 40 countries. In addition, SpaceX has got the green light to launch 4,408 satellites to provide worldwide internet access. After Iran’s internet was shut down due to rising protests, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has offered to place satellites above the country for a seamless internet connection. Learn more about Starlink and the technologies behind satellite internet connectivity.
What Is Starlink Internet Access?
Ever since the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik I, by the Soviet Union, many organizations have been able to successfully launch satellites into orbit for various purposes, including those related to space exploration, weather monitoring, global positioning system (GPS), and communication. One such category of satellites present in outer space are geostationary satellites, orbiting the Earth at the same rate as the Earth rotates, giving the illusion of stationary motion to observers on the ground. These geostationary satellites emerged as a viable option for delivering internet service after the advent and expansion of the internet.
Prior to the first satellite internet launch by Eutelsat (European Telecommunications Satellite Organization) in 2003, many firms and organizations tried and failed to break into the satellite internet market. Since then, a plethora of satellites with increased throughput, data rate, and bandwidth have been launched by competing businesses in space.
How Does Satellite Internet Access Work?
The data transfer between the satellites in orbit around the Earth and the computers is accomplished using radio waves. The user’s request for data is transmitted to the satellite via the modem and satellite dish installed at the user’s location. This depends on which satellite internet provider the customer is using.
The satellite will relay the user’s request to a network operating station (also known as a “gateway”), which will then connect to the main Internet network and retrieve the desired data. Every ISP has its own network of gateway servers that receive user queries and relay them via satellite back to the user. Remote sections of the country where wired internet service is difficult to establish are ideal candidates for satellite internet. Rather than having a single satellite serve an entire country, most major satellite internet companies use constellations of satellites to cover smaller regions. This improves operational support and service in each region. Hughes Network Systems, Viasat, and O3b are three of the most prominent firms in this field. Starlink, a subsidiary of SpaceX that utilizes the company’s low-cost aircraft for satellite deployment, has recently joined the market.
Starlink’s low-latency, high-speed internet service is the first of its kind, and is available in over 40 countries thanks to the company’s first-ever deployment of a satellite mega constellation in a 550 km low Earth orbit. Let’s look at the differentiating features that set Starlink apart from competing internet service providers.
Light And Compact Satellites: The geostationary Starlink satellites deployed in the Earth’s orbit are mass-produced and are lightweight, and compact, ideal for stacking on the Falcon9 rocket. This has led them to build the largest constellation of internet-providing satellites in the world with over 3,400 satellites. As a result of their small size and ability to be mass-produced, these satellites can be made for a reasonable price.
Autonomous Collision Avoidance: According to the Kessler syndrome, the number of orbiting objects and debris is large enough that any collision between a satellite and any of these items might set off a positive feedback loop in which the newly generated debris would increase the number of subsequent collisions. As a result, engineers are scurrying around for novel solutions to reduce space pollution and forestall the terrible collisions described above. Starlink’s satellites are equipped with krypton-fueled Hall thrusters, which allow them to de-orbit at the end of their lives. Because of their low Earth orbit deployment, these satellites can easily burn up in our dense atmosphere before they become space junk. These satellites are also equipped with a mechanism that allows them to automatically steer clear of space junk and other spacecraft in orbit by using uplinked tracking data.
Star Tracker: Star trackers let you determine the precise location and orientation of a satellite in space using the relative position of the satellite to a reference star. Starlink employs these trackers to pinpoint the precise location of the satellite and aim radio waves directly at it for better internet throughput.
Optical Space Lasers: Some of Starlink’s recently launched satellites are equipped with optical lasers for use in intersatellite communication. Satellites use lasers to send and receive data, eliminating the need for ground stations. Because the corporation wouldn’t have to spend as much money meeting regulations and building base stations everywhere, the price of service would go down while the coverage area would expand dramatically. When ground stations are removed from the communication network, internet bandwidth is also increased.
Antennas: Four strong phased-array antennas and two parabolic antennas are included with each Starlink satellite to create a focused beam of data significantly larger than those of competing services. As a result, a great deal more information may be sent and received.
Singular Solar Array: To further reduce their size and weight, Starlink satellites rely on a single solar array for power.
Starlink Cellular Service
Starlink’s long-term goal is to expand the functionality of its fleet of cutting-edge satellites beyond just high-speed internet connections in the coming years. Starlink and T-Mobile US have teamed up to bring satellite cellular service to the people of the United States. This will ensure that there are no cellular dead spots anywhere in the world. The initial rollout will only support texting, but if the beta goes well, the service will expand to include voice and broadband as well. Because of this, people from all over the world may speak with each other no matter where they are, which has profound implications for business potential, personal safety, and global connectivity. Both Elon Musk and Mike Sievert, CEO of T-Mobile, have invited other international carriers to work together to achieve true worldwide coverage.
Starlink has the necessary permission from government agencies to offer internet service in over 40 countries, and they are working hard to expand their reach. In the next ten years, they might develop into a major player in the global satellite internet and possibly satellite cellular service markets.