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Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) Starlink satellite internet service is batting with a tight semiconductor supply, impacting its ability to fulfill customer pre-orders. Starlink is currently in its beta testing stages, and when compared with the aggressive launch cadence that has enabled SpaceX to build a constellation with more than a thousand small satellites, few launches have taken place in the second half of this year. At the same time, customers who submitted pre-orders for their internet equipment are seeing estimated coverage times extend and witnessing a long waiting period for their user dish and other equipment to arrive.
Starlink Becomes Latest Victim Of Global Chip Shortage, Joining List Of Automakers and Personal Computing Equipment Providers
The semiconductor shortage, which occurred alongside the ongoing pandemic, resulted from an overwhelming demand for consumer electronics due to global populations shifting indoors for remote work and entertainment. It was compounded when the Chinese automotive market recovered sharply, and carmakers worldwide, who had canceled their chip orders, rushed back to foundries to meet the Chinese demand.
Starlink revealed through a brief note on its website that it is also suffering from the global semiconductor shortage. The note, posted in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section, reads as:
Silicon shortages have delayed production which has impacted our ability to fulfill orders. Please visit your Account page for the most recent estimate on when you can expect your order to be fulfilled.
Once a customer pre-orders service from the SpaceX subsidiary, the company ships several items once coverage is established. This list includes the user dish for connecting to the orbiting satellites, a Wi-Fi router to provide the user with internet coverage, a power supply brick, a stand to install the dish on and cables.
The Wi-Fi router shipped by Starlink is manufactured by the Taiwanese Wistron NeWeb Corporation, a contract equipment manufacturer known for supplying consumer electronics firms such as the Cupertino tech giant Apple, Inc.
Additionally, teardowns of the user dish have revealed that it runs on a processor designed by the British design house Arm Ltd. It uses 'cores' called Cortex A53, which are generally used in low-end smartphones and other devices. Four Cortex A53 cores are present in the dish's processor. One is responsible for transmitting signals to the satellites, the other for receiving them, and the remaining pair manages other functions.
Starlink's admission of the chip shortage comes as it paused regular launches to build out its internet constellation. This constellation was at the center of a major tussle at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with Starlink's request to change satellite altitudes and other parameters eventually granted by the Commission after hard-hitting arguments by rivals DISH Corporation and Amazon's Kuiper and concessions from the SpaceX end.
Now, Starlink is currently facing arguments from its aforementioned rivals and RS Access, LLC, over its modified application for launching second-generation (Gen2) satellites. These satellites will feature several upgrades over their predecessors, and the modification submitted an additional launch plan to the FCC.
The modification lays out Starlink's plans to use SpaceX's Starship next-generation launch vehicle to launch its spacecraft. Starship is significantly larger than SpaceX's currently operational Falcon 9 rocket, and as a result, it can accommodate not only more satellites but also place them closer to their targetted orbit. Both these factors vastly speed up deployment time and will enable Starlink to roll out its satellites and its service rapidly.
However, Starship is currently awaiting its first orbital launch attempt, for which it has to receive clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Starlink's rivals argue that the two different vehicles in the Gen2 application violate FCC rules. At the same time, Starlink refutes them by highlighting that it will only use one vehicle to launch the satellites.