A look at SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet initiative

Access to the internet is essentially a requirement for all gerbils. Most of us here on TR get our home internet delivered via a wired connection. Usually, that means copper in the form of cable or DSL. Others are fortunate enough to have the option of fiber. For those not using a wire, some may choose to use a cellular connection, while a small percentage might take advantage of fixed wireless to exchange bits. Each option comes with their own plusses and minuses both technical and economic. Very few, however, would make the choice of going with a satellite-based ISP—unless that is their only option. SpaceX is looking to change that with Starlink, and it all starts now.

A brief history of SpaceX​​​​

SpaceX’s rocket launches and the clients that pay for them have created a financially stable and sustainable business. SpaceX has successfully launched 17 missions that supplied cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), including the first demonstration mission of the new Dragon2 capsule. This capsule is expected to launch humans to the ISS within a year. The company has also launched dozens of communication satellites for private businesses, along with multiple US government satellites. That’s all well and good, but SpaceX’s long-term goal is to take the next steps of reaching out into (and beyond) the solar system to send payloads, scientific or human, to other planets—most immediately, Mars. Admittedly, this is a pretty ambitious goal, but this way-out-there thinking is what’s driven the company to do things others thought impossible, or never seriously considered.

The second Falcon Heavy flight. Source: Me!

The company has pioneered various space-tricks, many of which revolve around the re-use of components. Starting with the 11th ISS cargo mission, SpaceX started re-using the Dragon capsule instead of building new ones each time. In 2015, SpaceX pulled a card from sci-fi novels and accomplished what most considered to be impossible by landing the first stage of their rocket on a landing pad. In 2016, SpaceX upped the game again by landing in the middle (figuratively speaking) of the ocean onboard a large floating barge. In 2018, during the Falcon Heavy test flight, it accomplished another milestone by successfully landing two first-stages on land. Earlier this year, on the second Falcon Heavy flight, SpaceX was able to successfully land all three first-stages, two by land and one by sea.

The goal of component re-use is primarily to bring down the cost of space travel. For reference, the cost of a Space Shuttle launch was about $1 billion each trip. Granted, the Shuttle could deliver about 28 metric tons to low-earth orbit (LEO) while the standard Falcon 9 can only do 23 tons, but SpaceX’s own website lists the price of a basic Falcon 9 launch at just $62 million. Access to LEO is good, and being able to lob huge satellites toward a Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) is great too. Going to Mars is a whole other ballgame, though.

Back in 1969-1972, the mighty Saturn V powered the historic Apollo missions to the moon. The combined mass of the CSM & LEM was around 30,000kg. SpaceX’s largest currently operational rocket, the Falcon Heavy, can only launch about 17,000kg to Mars. Of course, the trip to the Moon only took about three days. The duration of a trip to Mars varies depending on the orbital distance between the planets and how much fuel is available, but it would be something more like nine months. Today, no rocket exists that can lift enough mass to make a manned Mars mission feasible.

However, SpaceX has a plan. It’s called Starship—formerly known as BFR, MCT, and ITS. Starship will be powered by 38 Raptor engines and is expected to offer almost twice the thrust of the Saturn V. SpaceX also intends to refuel the rocket in orbit. That will purportedly allow it to carry around 100,000kg to Mars.

All of that is some pretty ambitious technology, but research and development isn’t cheap. There’s no government footing the bill to get human butts to Mars. That means Elon Musk and SpaceX must find another avenue to pay for the development of this plan, and that avenue is Starlink.

 

Look to the Stars…for Internet?

Back in 2015, SpaceX announced plans to develop a global satellite-based internet service. It won’t be alone in that space; HughesNet, along with some other options in partnership with Dish Network or DirectTV,  are established players in the satellite internet provider game. Frankly, satellite-based internet is unacceptable for most consumers—especially for those gerbil in nature—owing to its extremely limited bandwidth and incredibly high latency. Because of the extreme latency, anything that needs near-real-time communication is pretty much out the window. That mostly affects online gaming, but even things as simple as VOIP can fail. Some services, like the PlayStation Network, will simply refuse to operate with ping times in the four-digit range. The reason for the extra latency is simple physics.

Satellites that provide internet are largely based way out in GEO. This means that the satellite is at roughly the same place in the sky relative to a single point on the ground. That’s a good thing for most use-cases. A consumer will have a dish located somewhere on their property that is pointing to a specific place in the sky, because that’s where the satellite is orbiting. The trade-off for maintaining a fixed place in the sky is that you have to be pretty far away above the surface of the earth: around 36,000km, to be semi-specific.

Falcon Heavy demo flight. Source: Me again!

So, why not put satellites in LEO? The upside to LEO-based satellite internet is that the latency is around an order of magnitude lower. Instead of talking 100’s of ms, you’re talking 10’s of ms. In fact, by some calculations, it may be faster to communicate long distances via satellite than fiber due to fiber’s approximate 30% speed of light slow down (by my quick math, if the linear distance is greater than four times the satellite’s height, satellite would be faster). That all sounds great, but of course there’s a catch: LEO is far from stationary, so you need a lot of fast-moving satellites to maintain coverage. This setup is called a “satellite constellation.”

From a ground-tracking standpoint, a single dish pointed at a fixed point in the sky won’t cut it for constellation communication. Instead, the receiver would have a much wider view, something like 45° of the sky. Over time, multiple satellites would pass in and out of that cone. Such a client device would have logic built-in that would let it know where the satellites are, where they’re going, and handle seamless handoffs between them. Those of you who have worked with Wi-Fi zero-handoff know how tricky this was, until recently.

In addition to the latency benefits, Starlink could offer significantly higher bandwidth. Rather than having a handful of satellites serving the entire continental United States, you might have a couple hundred that are covering that same area. As a result, the bandwidth isn’t spread nearly as thin, so more is available to any individual client.

SpaceX has worked toward deploying such a satellite infrastructure for a while now. The company’s intent is to have thousands of satellites in LEO, between 500-700km about the earth, with a user-base of a million clients. So far, Starlink is still in the development phase, but that’s about to change. Back in February 2018, SpaceX launched 2 prototypes, called Tintin-A and TinTin-B. They were proof-of-concept satellites that piggybacked on a large communication satellite launch (Paz, a Spanish imaging satellite). For the last 15 months, SpaceX has been testing various aspects of their system. While many details of the overall project are still unknown, 2019 is supposed to be the year that SpaceX launches a 1.0 version of their communication hardware.

Future Starlink satellites are expected to make their way to space on dedicated SpaceX launches, rather than as secondary payloads. Most of SpaceX’s payloads have been either two small or medium size satellites or, more commonly, a single large satellite. These are mounted on top of the second stage of the rocket and are kept protected inside a fairing. 

Most communication satellites, which rest in GEO, tend to be big and fill up the mass and volume restrictions of a rocket by themselves. A larger satellite dish is required to receive signals in GEO, and more onboard fuel is needed for station keeping. For most launches, the chief limitation is the rocket’s mass-lifting ability, rather than volume-carrying capacity. Along those lines, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket can deploy a payload with three times the mass if it is going to LEO instead of GEO. The farther in orbit your payload is meant for, the more energy it takes to launch the same payload. The same math means that the further out your payload is going, the less mass you can launch with the same energy.

SpaceX designs its own rockets, and the company knows exactly what their capabilities are. Instead of large communication satellites, what SpaceX has done instead is develop small satellites. SpaceX can clearly optimize the dimensions, the center of mass, and other physical properties of the rocket to suit the needs of launching Starlink. It can also intentionally design the shape of the individual satellites to maximize the amount of space inside the rocket fairing. SpaceX’s current fairings are 5m in diameter and 13m in length; for the initial Starlink launch, SpaceX found a way to Jenga sixty satellites inside the fairing.

Another difference between LEO and GEO is the rate of decay. A typical GEO satellite can stay in its orbit for over ten years before it runs out of the fuel it uses to stay still. Most LEO satellites have a lifespan closer to five years. There are negatives and positives to this limitation. The positive is that a LEO satellite will de-orbit itself at the end of its life, or, in the event of a complete failure, will deorbit after a few years with no input needed. In GEO, reserve fuel must be kept until end-of-life, at which time the satellite burns its thrusters to put the satellite in a “graveyard orbit” where it is out of the way, and can’t interfere with other satellites. Of course, the big negative to LEO is that five-year lifespan.

 

Let’s get ready to tumble

As of the time of writing, SpaceX is scheduled to launch the first dedicated Starlink mission on Thursday, May 23 2019 at 22:30 EDT (0230 GMT on May 24). This will be a Falcon’s heaviest payload, even including the two Falcon Heavy launches. It doesn’t need to go quite as fast as other payloads, though: since it’s going to LEO, it only needs to get up to 26,000 km/hr.

As you may recall, SpaceX also has a knack for landing its boosters after they have launched so the company can reuse them. Fittingly, the booster flying this mission has already been used twice. For lighter payloads, there’s enough fuel left-over to land the booster on a concrete pad south of the launch pad, but given the enormous mass of this launch, the booster will instead land on a drone ship used for down-range landings. That barge will be sitting off the coast of North Carolina, about 680km away from Cape Canaveral here in Florida.

Booster being offloaded from the Drone ship after launching Beresheet satellite to the moon. Source: Still me.

The deployment of the satellites will be unique. Over the course of about one hour, the second stage will begin to rotate like a rotisserie. As it comes up to speed, it will eject the individual satellites at specific times. This rotation will give it centrifugal force and will assist in spreading out the satellites using minimal onboard propulsion. One of the risks of deploying so many satellites is that there’s a good chance that some of the satellites may bump into each other after they are deployed. According to SpaceX, this has been accounted for in the design and they are made to handle some bumper-car-ing.

In a way, Starlink is the pinnacle in satellite vertical integration. SpaceX controls everything, from the rocket, to the launch, the payload, and the fairing. Obviously, this reduces the cost compared to outsourcing. While the company has been tight-lipped regarding the cost of the satellites, Musk said that the rocket and launch costs were more than the satellite manufacturing costs. If you’ll indulge me while I speculate, I would estimate a cost of around $35 million for the launch, and maybe another $25 million for manufacturing and setup of the individual satellites. That puts the per-satellite cost at around a million bucks, according to my back-of-the-napkin math. For perspective, the Iridium NEXT satellites have a per-satellite cost around $12 million, all-inclusive.

SpaceX is estimating that around 1,200 satellites will provide “good” coverage over the whole globe. The inclination of the satellite’s orbit determines how much of the earth it covers. The ISS is at a 52° inclination which means that during its orbit, it passes 75% of the globe. As with most things space-related, the lower the inclination, the more fuel-efficient it is to get to orbit. The higher the inclination, the greater percentage of the globe is covered and the more useful the satellite is. Starlink’s satellites are going to be placed at a 53° inclination which will cover 75% of the earth’s surface, but 95% of the world’s population.

From a bandwidth standpoint, Elon said SpaceX are estimating about one terabit of bandwidth for the 60 satellites that are launching. Hypothetically, 10,000 simultaneous test users would each get 100 Mbps at that rate. As the number of satellites increase, the available bandwidth increases as well. For a lot of people served by Starlink, it will be the highest-throughput transfer option available. By the way, instead of a dish, the Starlink receiver will be roughly the size of a pizza box. Inside, there will be an electronically phase-controlled array of antennas.

As we said, on the first launch there would be 60 Starlink satellites. This will get the testing started. According to SpaceX, about six launches would be enough to provide salable coverage. Because SpaceX can build them as fast as it can afford and launch as frequently as it can allocate rockets, the company completely controls the roll-out timing. While SpaceX hasn’t given a specific timeline, six launches could be done every month or two, in theory. That could work out to moderate-volume testing somewhere in the next six months to a year.

The long-term plan is for the number of satellites to be over 10,000. A few different scenarios are speculated as options for orbital arrangement. The one I personally like is a plan of multiple constellations at different orbital heights. In this scenario, users would be connected to one of a thousand or so satellites at the lowest height, say 500km. Beyond that, there might be 50 satellites in a 700km orbit which would serve as the trunk and would talk to the ground stations. Each of the 500km satellites would use lasers to route traffic through to the 700km satellites before being sent back down to earth. This would allow for redundancy and simplify the satellite-satellite links. This is all speculation, as SpaceX hasn’t announced specific plans on how or when it will roll that out. We do know that this initial launch does not have the hardware to do satellite to satellite cross communication, though.

There are multiple technical curiosities that will be answered following the launch. The satellites are currently inside the payload folded up like origami. It’ll be very interesting to finally see their final shape. They’ll have to open their wings like a butterfly to deploy the solar planes for power. Speaking of solar panels, the information SpaceX has given is that each satellite would have around 2kW of solar power generating potential. Mathematically, all 60 combined would generate 50% more power than the eight arrays on the ISS (or about six times fish’s house).

Most satellites have onboard thrusters and reaction wheels used for various purposes: getting to final orbit post-deployment, ejection and separation from the rocket, staying where they’re supposed to, and moving to an end-of-life orbit. The Starlink satellites are making use of Hall-effect ion thrusters. That means they use electricity to generate a magnetic field which accelerates the onboard propellant out a nozzle, pushing the satellite in the opposite direction. Normally xenon is used as the propellant, but to cut costs SpaceX is going with krypton—useful should we ever need to deploy a planetary shield against an evil Superman.

 

Making Space personal

I have a personal love (ok, obsession) with all things Aerospace. I love rockets, launches, and orbital mechanics. However, my love for airplanes and airports is a much more tangible thing than my love for grown-up space toys. I was very excited following the design of the Boeing 787 and that got to come full-circle with the couple business trips I’ve flown on them. Space doesn’t have that same connection. A random communication satellite doesn’t directly impact my life, especially since I don’t have satellite TV. Maybe if you are someone that uses a satellite phone, watching a rocket launch that carries an Iridium satellite would provide that connection. It may mean more that you could be talking to that very satellite at one point down the road.

SpaceX DM1 launch. Source: This lucky guy.

The technology and science of space flight is the part that is inspiring and motivating for my engineering brain. Living in Florida, it is convenient for me to go over and watch launches. While I very much enjoy it, the payloads are usually the least-interesting part because they are not personally relevant. With Starlink, the payload is just as exciting as the launch for the first time in a while.

Of course, people are more interested in things that impact them personally. Well, the internet is something that touches everyone. By the end of 2020, the rocket that carries these first nodes might be your gateway to the internet. Starlink could help bridge the gap and bring space into the thoughts of the everyman. This is a case where people can say, “I watched this rocket go up, I saw the payload deploy, and I’m currently using that payload to connect to the internet.” I think it’ll be very interesting to see how this all goes.

Even for those who aren’t rabid space fans, Starlink should be a win-win. For those without good options for broadband—particularly in rural areas—it could be a godsend. That market would be SpaceX’s to lose. It should basically come down to speed, pricing, and a lack of data usage caps (well, I can dream). For those of us who already have decent options, Starlink may still work out to be a better choice. 

Adding a competitor to the market will probably make the existing players up their game to compete. It was no coincidence that, when Google Fiber was announced and started to roll out, the cable and telco providers started offering higher speeds and decreased their prices for premium tiers. Competition is usually a good thing. It’s also worth mentioning that 5G cellular service will be rolling out soon. In fact, the initial test markets in the US are being done in stationary settings with users using it as their home connection. I very much look forward to all of these new options reaching the hands of us users.

Hopefully in the next few months we’ll get some more details, specifically with regards to timeframe and constellation setup. I have to give major kudos to the team over at SpaceX for being willing to put themselves out there and develop something completely new. Of all the various companies that have attempted this idea, most have either given up or gone bankrupt trying. I wish the best to Elon, Shotwell, and their team, and I’m looking forward to being on the beach to watch this historic launch.

Comments closed
    • SnowboardingTobi
    • 5 months ago

    sooo… won’t this make launching something into space a little more difficult? Now they have to account the flight path to not run into one of these satellites. And if one gets hit with an asteroid and breaks up into chunks – now you’ve got all these chunks that could hit other Starlink sats and destroy more.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 5 months ago

      As others have put so eloquently, “space is big”. As long as there are known orbits (which there are), it’s pretty easy to work around.
      Let’s run some quick math. The earth radius is ~6300km. If we go a satellite constellation 700km above that would be a sphere 14,000km in diatemeter which would have a surface area of 6.16E15 M^2. If each satellite is 2mx2m (4 m^2), 1000 of them would take up 4E3m^2. That is 6.5E-13, roughly 1.5 trillionth of the surface area.

    • liquidsquid
    • 5 months ago

    Interestingly a larger problem with these is they get in the way of astronomy. So much crud flying around out there, that you pretty much guarantee one of these little runts will fly right between the scope and the object in observation. Is it worth screwing up science in the name of low-latency video gaming?

    [url<]https://gizmodo.com/satellite-constellations-like-spacexs-starlink-could-ca-1835383293[/url<] I'm torn. I love the concept, but I also love a clear starry night without a bunch of little specs flying about.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 5 months ago

      To a naked eye, you’ll never notice the little specs at night. There are already satellites visible at very specific points in time (right after dusk & right before sunrise), I don’t expect that to change significantly. There has been alot of hullabaloo made right after the launch and not really anything since because the higher orbit and orientation of the solar arrays has made them no more visible than any other satellite.

    • Billstevens
    • 5 months ago

    I’ve been working in the sat com industry for a few years now and Starlink is sugar coating some of the challenges that come with doing global high speed internet with LEO sats.

    The largest barrier has always been the fact that you literally need close to at least 1,000 satellites before you can even begin to test a full system. This is mainly because without a high number of sats you wont have the coverage to hold an internet connection anywhere on the globe. Or you have a limited test window while a number of them pass overhead.

    Having to launch so many satellites in order to prove the concept even works has always been cost barrier to investors because of the upfront launch costs. Which is probably spaceX’s one main innovation allowing it to have better shot at actually attempting a modern day LEO sat system.

    But even if they do succeed in getting enough sats up there, the next problem is clear. The reason they think the need 12,000 sats is probably to approach a decent enough coverage to offer high bandwidth to a large portion of people. The sats are tiny so their individual bandwidth and coverage is shit. So you need a lot of them up there.

    As a result though you have to look at the efficiency of your coverage and cost. The coverage efficiency is absolute shit, because well almost all your sats at any given time are wandering over the ocean serving internet to the whales.

    LEO sat for global internet is generally viewed as a bad joke around the current standing sat community because it mainly just makes things harder, with its only major advantage being latency. When lets face it, latency is really only a notable problem for gamers and the financial industry. Its a manageable problem for most other applications.

    Larger stationary sats or even MEO sats which offer a bit of a compromise between the two worlds can offer loads more bandwidth in a single package and they can use beam steering to put that coverage an bandwidth in required locations without wasting coverage on un-populated areas. Making those systems more adaptable to changing markets and service needs.

    Its possible someone could prove everyone wrong and make LEO sat internet an amazing triumph. But the marketing majorly downplays the huge issues the concept has with serving high bandwidth to denser regions and the shit load of successful launches needed to prove you can handle a significant customer base. The negative business aspects of setting up and operating a large LEO sat system have traditionally outweighed the potential benefits. And people have been garnering investor interest in LEO sat systems for decades.

    If anyone is capable of doing it, it is spaceX, given there attempt to make launches more efficient. But even solving that problem may not be enough to make this the go to global internet solution.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 5 months ago

      The way I read your viewpoint is that if they can’t make it work, noone can.
      One minor comment is that if it does take off, the maritime and aviation industry would certainly like having loads of bandwidth available for long-haul flights. Doesn’t help with aviation’s polar routes, but the trans-pacific would be huge.

    • Froz
    • 5 months ago

    What about space debris? 2k new objects on the orbit every year doesn’t seem low, considering there are about 2k satellites on the orbit right now, 1.3k of which are in LEO.

      • DreadCthulhu
      • 5 months ago

      These satellites are in really low orbit; any possible debris they create would get dragged down in <10 years or so.

    • outsideloop
    • 6 months ago

    And Skynet is born……

      • drfish
      • 6 months ago

      More like Spacemesh.

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 6 months ago

    Now that the launch is done and we have some more details, some of the speculation in the article isn’t accurate any more:

    The 2nd stage rotate, just not around it’s central axis. Instead it was end-to-end and ejected the satellites all at once in a single direction. This is akin to a sideline thrown-in frequently seen in women’s socer. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLoBNf25X3w).

    They are spreading out like a freight-train (or is it a Conga line?):
    [url<]https://twitter.com/Marco_Langbroek/status/1132064132390379520?s=20[/url<]

    • NovusBogus
    • 6 months ago

    Pricing and market segmentation is key. Google Fiber failed partly due to the need to make dirty deals with crooked local governments, but also because they didn’t realize until too late that paying a lot of money for immense bandwidth is not universally appealing. They need to start with a “pretty decent for $50/mo.” choice and market it heavily.

      • BeakersBro
      • 6 months ago

      They have a slight issue because the pizza box ground is going to be expensive to start – they are trying to get it down to $1000, but they don’t appear to be close to that yet.

    • Zizy
    • 6 months ago

    Cost estimate:

    Let’s say 60 sats cost SpaceX about 120m$ to build and launch them. Lifetime in LEO should be less than 20 years unmaintained but lets be generous, putting cost at 100k/sat/year.
    So, break-even point is about 1k users/satellite, each paying about 100$/year (cheap for sat-net but quite expensive for anything else).
    The number is low enough they could have many more users per satellite and it would still work, but I see another issue – will they get enough users in the first place? Even the first phase requires half a million users; 10M for the final phase.
    (sure, with more users cost would be lower to the point they might even steal some customers on copper or mobile, but still, this is a lot of users)

    I wonder if there is any economic advantage of doing this in space as opposed to use planes or balloons. It surely is fancier 😀

      • meerkt
      • 6 months ago

      Planes are wasteful. [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loon_(company)<]Balloons[/url<], I'm guessing it also depends on how big an area you want to cover?

      • DreadCthulhu
      • 6 months ago

      HughesNet has over a million subscribers just in the US right now, and that is with the subpar experience GEO satellites bring. Consider how much better LEO satellites should be, and then add in world-wide coverage, getting at least 10 million subscribers should be doable.

      As for your ballpark figures for the cost of the system, well I think you are too high on the launch & build cost, but too optimistic on the life of the satellites – they are going to be in really low orbits. Space X charges $60 million for a Falcon 9 launch (and presumably is making at least some profit margin – they could charge more and still be the cheapest option) & the price of each satellite should be well under $1 million each. On the downside, the satellites are only going to last ~5 years or so, since they are in such low orbits.

      Still, even if a batch of 60 costs a full $120 million to launch, and only last 5 years, the whole first-phase of 4400 will cost $8.8 billion to launch, and $1.76 billion in yearly launch upkeep. Then say tack on $1 billion a year in other costs. 10 million people @ $50 a month brings in $6 billion in revenue, enough that the whole thing is very nicely profitable after just 3 years. That also works out to ~2300 people per satellite.

      And of course, this is ignoring the whole Starship program that Space X is charging ahead with, that should massively drop launch costs. Space X predicts that each Starship launch should cost less than a Falcon 9, while carrying much more cargo. 250 to 300 Starlink satellites should fit into a single Starship launch. Combine that with the assembly line dropping the price of the satellites, even maintaining the full 12,000 satellite network Starlink wants to build should be doable.

        • BeakersBro
        • 6 months ago

        User’s per satellite is probably not a great metric.

        He should be able to get more money from companies that either needs really low latency or have high data needs in remote locations (oil platforms, cruise ships,etc.).

        I suspect a lot of places will end up sharing an account/pizza box antenna and building out a WISP to provide low cost service to a larger group of people – remote villages for example.

        Also, a big chunk of time the satellites are over places with few people underneath them. This is going to game changing for Pacific island nations and places where it is too hard to runs fiber even if they are not that remote.

        And anyone who expects this to be a “neutral network” is going to be incorrect.

          • Ikepuska
          • 6 months ago

          Most of the professional analysis I’ve seen has said that it’s unlikely, especially to start, that SkyLink is going to sell to end users directly. They’ll likely be wholesalers. Which makes great sense because end user customer service worldwide in all languages would be a bear. And WISPs is exactly the primary customer base plus big shipping companies that would KILL for reliable higher bandwidth lower-latency connections for their ships. SpaceX could charge really high rates, and it would still be eaten up by that market because it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the operating costs of those massive ships, with tremendous upsides for the companies.

    • meerkt
    • 6 months ago

    How easy would it be to tap into someone’s satellite link? 🙂

    Two small notes:

    3rd image caption says “…after launching Beresheet satellite to the moon”. Definitely the more interesting payload, but maybe more accurate to call it the Nusantara Satu launch? Also, Beresheet wasn’t a satellite.

    “solar planes” -> “panels”.

      • Redocbew
      • 6 months ago

      Probably wouldn’t be any more difficult than tapping into someone’s wifi. You could use something similar to wireshark to get at the raw packets, but what you’d be able to do with them beyond that depends on whatever protocols and encryption are in use at the time. Let’s hope they use something better than WPA!

        • Ikepuska
        • 6 months ago

        Well, that phased array isn’t exactly COTS for non-commercial customers to buy. The downlink traffic sure, but the uplink will potentially not have nearly as much ground distance as regular WiFi because the phased array’s entire purpose is the ability to be highly directional and track quickly. That’s not even getting into the actual mechanics of ground to sat communication. Just to begin with the PHY modulation used for digitization might not be something you can easily decode just to start. And then there’s no reason for it to be IP protocol based at all since routing is potentially much simpler within the satellite network, and it’s not till it hits ground station that it needs to go back to IP based.

        Not to say it won’t be possible to tap it, but it’s certainly not a sure thing that it will be with easily acquired components.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 6 months ago

      Absolutely right about the third image. It should have said “payload”. As the article kind of states, most payloads don’t excite me, so The occasional really interesting payload is the one I remember.

    • DreadCthulhu
    • 6 months ago

    There is plenty of interesting uses for this network, beside the obvious internet service to rural areas & the like. It could serve as a backend for cell phone towers in rural areas, for example. The low-latency abilities will also attract the attention of the high-frequency trading types. They are already willing to pay quite a bit of money for microwave links between cities like London & Frankfurt; that slight advantage over the speed of fiber can make a surprising profit. Starlink should be able to do the same on long-haul routes, like NYC-Tokyo and such.

    Plus the fact that Ol’Musky will be plowing the profits into dropping a Boring machine on Mars with those flying trashcans he has his guys wielding together is just cool. And if they get everything working right, Starlink should bring in pretty big number. Even just ten million subscribers @ $60 a month works out to a tidy $7.2 billion a year in revenue.

      • psuedonymous
      • 6 months ago

      ‘Fibre to the sky’ backhaul is the primary purpose of Starlink. You [i<]could [/i<] get your own ground terminal and subscription in the same way you [i<]could[/i<] have someone lay a phat glass pipe to your door, but you're probably going to have to add one or more zeroes to your monthly figure to get closer to the end user cost.

    • ludi
    • 6 months ago

    Very nice article (other than a few editing glitches). If TR can get a few more entries like this it will fill in nicely for the hole left when Ars went fluff.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 6 months ago

      Eric Berger over at Ars is one of the best in the industry, IMHO.

        • Wonders
        • 6 months ago

        Berger is great for news, but what really captures my interest as a casual observer are feature pieces, exactly like this one by AJ.

        I’ve always longed for tech journalism with a classic Popular Mechanics feel while including more technical detail — and actually, you know, well-written.
        Just like this! Keep it up!

          • Usacomp2k3
          • 6 months ago

          🙂

            • Ikepuska
            • 6 months ago

            I agree that Eric is amazing, but don’t sell yourself short. Eric is really writing for the already converted. Your writing, just like Wonders said is much more Popular Mechanic. Which was not targeted exclusively at people who rebuilt their own engines. It’s a good look for you and TR, and I highly encourage more ‘technology’ journalism with that type of focus of gateway drug to the subject. Again, excellent job.

            ETA: I mean look at people like Statistical over at Ars commenting after an Eric article. When your user comments are dominated by people accurately discussing the nuts and bolts of rocket science, you are not dealing with a readership comprised of regular tech readers.

            • DragonDaddyBear
            • 6 months ago

            I was thinking of this the other day. Detailed reporting is great, but I like casual reporting as well. that’s one of the reasons I watch LTT. The actual journalism isn’t the top of the stack but they take a very casual, real-world approach to what they cover. I’m not super knowledgeable to everything IT and enjoy content like this.

            I completely agree with Ikepuska in this regard. This was great article, very high-level and approachable by a wide audience. If you wanted more in-depth, technical there are sources for that.

      • wierdo
      • 6 months ago

      Yeah I’ve completely lost interest in their auto section when they stopped keeping up with the times and went gaga for click-bait spin and myopic “anti-change” attitude that runs counter to the spirit of the publication imho. I guess money talks in that area when you turn corporate.

      But Ars does have great content for science topics still. Writers such as Eric Berger and Lee Hutchinson are keeping that ship steady, covering the latest and greatest in technology with child-like wonder and hunger for progress and cutting edge.

      Which is great for someone who has been following them since they first started, long before Condé Nast bought them out.

    • Aranarth
    • 6 months ago

    Personally I’m looking forward to it.

    I’m currently on a wisp (casair.net) and my base download speed is about 4.5Mbps but I can boost up to 12Mbps.

    When you are are streaming that 30 seconds of boost is noticable especially when it works for commercials or just starting a show.

    Casair also does fiber and the closest they get to me right now is about 1.5 miles away through trees and farmers fields.

    If this new satellite internet works as well as I hope and for a good price ($90/mo or less) I’ll gladly switch to them. I currently pay $60/mo for internet so getting significantly faster 50% more is a good deal.

    • meerkt
    • 6 months ago

    Can drfish mind-control?

      • drfish
      • 6 months ago

      Nope, but I can suture html well enough to modify an attribution tag in the CMS.

      Once Bruno is online, his admin powers can remove my name from the story completely.

        • meerkt
        • 6 months ago

        Crafty.

      • Wonders
      • 6 months ago

      I’m not sure why exactly, but I just now felt compelled to log on here to provide public, 3rd-party confirmation that drfish absolutely cannot mind control in any way, shape, or form.

      I feel surprisingly thirsty. Why am I at Starbucks using their public wifi without my VPN enabled?

        • meerkt
        • 6 months ago

        Gee whiz. It’d take much more than that to prove a negative.

    • NTMBK
    • 6 months ago

    Great article! More things like this, please 🙂

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 6 months ago

      Thanks!

    • chuckula
    • 6 months ago

    I don’t have the highest opinion of Musk when it comes to Tesla, but if he can get world-wide broadband available, it will make it that much easier to move out to my land and live semi-off grid.

    So I’ll say all systems GO!

      • blastdoor
      • 6 months ago

      I just hope Tesla remains an American company. I fear Musk will drive the value down and they’ll be bought out by BYD

        • NovusBogus
        • 6 months ago

        Given that the company is losing money hand over fist, it occurs to me that letting Tesla get bought might be a really great way to torpedo the Chinese. Just sayin’.

        Anyway, I’ve found that if you really want to buy American you need to look at the component sourcing data because many of the domestic brands come from overseas and some of the Japanese companies build locally. Cars.com has provided such a list for many years. Believe it or not, Honda has been near the top of the [url=https://www.cars.com/articles/the-carscom-2017-american-made-index-1420695680673/<]last[/url<] [url=https://www.cars.com/articles/carscom-2018-american-made-index-whats-the-most-american-car-1420700348632/<]two[/url<] such studies. Toyota used to be dominant thanks to their manufacturing plant in Kentucky and KY/TN-heavy supply chain, but they've fallen off the list for some reason.

      • NovusBogus
      • 6 months ago

      Agree on Tesla, but SpaceX seems to be doing reasonably well in general. I do have to take issue with the “he’s bootstrapping it” part of the article though, since a huge portion of their revenue comes from government contracts. At least I’m getting a lot more bang for my tax bucks than direct NASA-led projects like the space shuttle.

        • kuraegomon
        • 6 months ago

        It’s still bootstrapping – SpaceX is [i<]easily[/i<] the most cost-effective launch provider for NASA (or anyone else, really). Building a profitable private launch capability is an astonishing achievement, and absolutely is the principal factor that makes a project like StarLink feasible. Also, I still think they should call it SkyNet 😉

      • shank15217
      • 6 months ago

      Interesting, can you elaborate your personal opinion on this? What part of an electric vehicle with the longest range, highest safety rating, potential autonomous driving, and software development like a IT platform bother you? Do you own a Tesla? Have you have any first hand experience with Tesla sales, service? Have you worked for the company? How much of your opinion is based on third party accounts? Lets hear it, I’m facinated.

      • wierdo
      • 6 months ago

      That’s easy to explain.

      [b<]Space-X[/b<] is private and doesn't need to promote itself as much since the product is aimed at large customers and governments. This means the attacks are mostly coming just from relatively unpopular incumbent contractors, balanced by excitement from media and fans of space who clearly see how the space has suddenly become more active and innovative. [b<]Tesla[/b<], on the other hand, is public and doesn't advertise. They're a small startup in a competitive market with many big established players, and their products sell to a more complex mix of customers. This means they need to move quickly all the time to stay in the game, and as a relatively small startup they cannot hope to compete on advertising, so their PR revolves around Twitter, Youtube, word of mouth and the like, not a popular choice when it comes to media outlets with traditional ad-based revenue. And of course they are a threat to multiple established industries with deep pockets. So this means allot of money and effort is spent on heading off this impending market disruption, oil, coal, traditional auto, transport, etc. Lots of money on the line. Also means Lots on shorting the stock coupled with negative messaging to milk the lows, it works in politics, why not public trading right? And it means old media generating drama narratives for clicks. If revenue is not coming from Tesla ads, then competing ads and clicks will have to fill the void in those traditional revenue generating models. And as a side effect, there's no filter from the pressure of having to maintain positive PR relations. Tesla doesn't fly journalists off for test drives and special events much, so they're not appealing to those used to getting freebies and red carpet treatment. Think about how this works in other industries such as medical, where doctors get wined and dined by a company promoting a new pill, it tends to affect the way they prescribe medicine to their patients, which makes it worth the effort for such companies. Human psychology for ya.

        • shank15217
        • 6 months ago

        Thanks for an informative post. Chuckula has been the resident goofball for as long as I can remember.

        • cegras
        • 6 months ago

        [quote<]They're a small startup in a competitive market with many big established players[/quote<] Haha!

          • wierdo
          • 6 months ago

          Everything in life is relative. Tesla may be “big” compared to the diner next door, but in its market it’s small fry, and other companies have orders of magnitude more financial and marketing muscle.

          But they’ve grown by over 25,000% in six years, so they got allot of potential.

          The things holding the old incumbents back are the dilemma of cannibalizing their legacy product lines as well as the difficulty of securing a large supply of batteries at short notice. VW is starting to see where things are headed, but it will take them a few years to get their ducks in a row for starters.

        • Spunjji
        • 6 months ago

        This kind-of glosses past Tesla’s checkered history with messaging around crash investigations, not to mention the absolute nonsense of Elon’s “funding secured” tweets and subsequent conspiracy-mongering around short sellers.

        You’re right that they get a lot of negative press from “old media” that fail to understand them (like the absolute travesty that was the Top Gear “review” of the Roadster) – however I tend to track them via tech-specific websites, and they still get negative press there for legitimate reasons, like the (infrequent, but alarming) tendency for Autopilot to drift towards barriers and run under truck trailers.

          • shank15217
          • 6 months ago

          Sorry, nothing is perfect and a driving assist system cannot be faulted when it fails.

            • Usacomp2k3
            • 6 months ago

            I would say that it can be faulted, and it should be corrected. However, a low number of failures doesn’t mean that it is:
            *Hopeless and all efforts should be stopped.
            *Worse off than human drivers

    • Mr Bill
    • 6 months ago

    No guesses why they did not name it Skynet!
    This is a really interesting well written article.

    • BigTed
    • 6 months ago

    Thanks for a great article. I really enjoyed that!

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 6 months ago

      You’re very welcome. It was a lot more stressful to write than I expected. Translating ideas into words is difficult and I applaud those who make it seem effortless.

        • meerkt
        • 6 months ago

        Stressful in what way?

          • Usacomp2k3
          • 6 months ago

          In general I struggle with communication. Whether that is at work explaining technical Issues to non-technical people or with my friends. I hate being the bearer of bad news. I do better when it is a dialogue and I’m able to converse and fill in the blanks or clear up any mis-speaks.
          I’m written form, there is no feedback (other than the editor) so its hard to tell the story. There’s no “ear” to give feedback, whether technical or just overall logical.

            • shaq_mobile
            • 6 months ago

            Well… I think you did great. 🙂 Thank you!

            • meerkt
            • 6 months ago

            Though, why not have a dialog on work-in-progress text with family/friends, or even let them review drafts?

    • shaq_mobile
    • 6 months ago

    What was the major issue for satellite latency? I remember my friend got like 400 ping with it. Totally worthless for Day of Defeat. RIP old friend.

    Edit:
    Nevermind. I thought this was a one page article so I didn’t read the whole thing. Looks like I have bigger latency concerns.

      • Billstevens
      • 6 months ago

      Travel distance round trip leads to a minimum around 700-800 ms for geo orbits.

      • davidbowser
      • 6 months ago

      I have only had to use satellite internet once while at a lake house in upstate NY. It was fine for most normal web browsing, but it choked on streaming audio or video. I can’t imagine what the ping times were, but it cut my normal browsing down to just reading.

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