Elon Musk Shares Crucial Starlink Data That Will Enable Big Leap Over Global Broadband

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Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) ch8ef executive officer Mr. Elon Musk has shared the latest details for his company's Starlink satellite internet constellation. Starlink is SpaceX's internet service which uses low Earth orbit (LEO) small satellites to beam down the Internet to its users. Due to a rapid cadence of launches, SpaceX has ensured that Starlink is the world's largest internet constellation in service, and the company is currently upgrading the satellites with laser based connectivity. This will allow Starlink to expand its coverage and reach areas that cannot be served without ground stations to connect the satellites and the users to internet servers.

Starlink Will Soon Start To Operate Laser Links Between Satellites Confirms Musk

Mr. Musk shared the latest details through his social media platform Twitter, as he outlined the number of Starlink satellites currently in orbit and his company's plans to activate newer spacecraft capable of optical communication. These are crucial for evaluating the internet service's current capacity, which has come under fire from rivals in proceedings for spectrum sharing and licensing currently underway at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

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According to the executive, Starlink currently has more than 1,400 spacecraft in service and it will activate its satellite with laser connectivity soon. As he outlined:

1469 Starlink satellites active
272 moving to operational orbits
Laser links activate soon

1:50 PM · Jan 15, 2022·Twitter for iPhone

These details are crucial as they mark a rare occasion when SpaceX has shared figures for its operational spacecraft. Generally, the company is more forthcoming about the total number of satellites that it has launched to date, which are higher than the figure shared by Musk above.

The latest such reveal came through a filing made to the FCC by SpaceX's director of satellite policy Mr. David Godlman. This was in the Commission's proceeding to evaluate whether to perming the company to launch the internet spacecraft through its Starship next-generation launch vehicle platform. SpaceX, which modified its application for the second generation Starlink satellites to accommodate Starship for a beefier cadence, is under fire from rivals who believe that the modification violates FCC rules. The filing saw Mr. Goldman state to the FCC that his company had launched close to 1,800 satellites by mid-November last year.

The second slide of Starlink's recent FCC presentation mentions that production has slowed due to a "ship shortage", in what can be assumed to be a typographical error. Or, the company could also be the victim of a global supply chain slowdown that has seen transport ships await their fate docked at the port. It also provided an update for the total satellites launched until mid-November last year. Image: SpaceX Gen2 Constellation 2021/FCC File Number = SATAMD2021081800105

Crucially, the tweet also confirms that Starlink has now built out more than a quarter of the first quarter of its first constellation phase. This phase will have a total of 4,396 satellites, out of which 1,584 each will be placed at 53° and 53.2° inclinations. Since Mr. Goldman's November filing, SpaceX has launched 247 additional satellites through five launches, most of which took this year in an aggressive start. This brings the total number of spacecraft launched close to 2,000, and the new launches all target the 53.2° inclination, which is the second part of the first phase mentioned above.

Starlink first tested newer satellites with lasers in 2020, and since then the company has launched several of these spacecraft, limiting itself to far flung polar orbits as of yet. Laser communications allow Starlink to cover wider regions of the globe, as its current operational model involves the user beaming the data to the satellite via a dish, with the satellite then communicating with the ground stations before completing the link once again with the user. Laser or optical communication removes this need, and Mr. Musk's latest tweet also suggests that Starlink is yet to operate the laser satellites that it has launched to date.

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Once more of these satellites are added to the mix, and they become operational, Starlink should either improve its performance or retain current figures as it adds more users into its fold. The latest data from Ookla, who is behind the popular internet speed testing application Speedtest shows that the service is leading broadband internet providers in download speeds globally.

However, Musk's latest figures are at odds with those combined by the popular astrophysicist Mr. Jonathan McDowell. McDowell, who regularly updates his website with facts about the Starlink spacecraft such as those in orbit and operational, believes that 1,498 satellites are operational instead of the 1,469 outlined by the SpaceX chief. Yet, once the satellites that are on their way to operational orbit according to Musk reach their destination, then Starlink will have further solidified its lead over other firms that plan to launch their own internet satellites.