- Starlink becomes the world’s biggest commercial satellite network.
- So far, SpaceX has deployed more than 180 satellites in Low Earth Orbit.
- Its commercial operation in the Northern U.S. and Canada will begin in 2020.
- The company aims to launch 12,000 satellites by the mid-2020s.
Starlink — a satellite network being built by SpaceX — was announced in January 2015, with the aim to support backhaul communications traffic and local internet traffic in high-density areas.
Fast forward to 2020, Starlink has become the world’s biggest commercial satellite constellation. This global network will be superior to traditional satellite internet: it will deliver high-speed broadband internet to regions where access has been expensive, unreliable, or completely unavailable.
When Did That Happen?
On 7th January 2020, SpaceX launched another 60 Starlink satellites into a 290-kilometer altitude orbit. These satellites will eventually move up to 550-kilometer altitude.
SpaceX used its Falcon 9 rocket to put satellites into the Low Earth Orbit (LEO). They recovered the rocket’s first-stage booster (it landed on its target location i.e. Atlantic Ocean drone ship) but failed to catch one half of the rocket’s clamshell-like payload fairing, which cost about $3 million.
The same batch of satellites was launched in May and November 2019. With a total of 180 satellites (excluding the 2 prototypes launched in 2018) orbiting the Earth, SpaceX now operates the biggest commercial satellite network.
12,000 Satellites Will Be Deployed By Mid-2020s
SpaceX has delivered 182 satellites (as of mid-January 2020). They aim to put about 12,000 satellites in the LEO by mid-2020s. And the commercial operation of already deployed satellites is expected to start as soon as in 2020.
SpaceX has also filed paperwork (in 2019) for 30,000 other Starlink satellites in addition to the 12,000 already approved by the United States Federal Communications Commission. If SpaceX deploys 12,000 plus 30,000 Starlink satellites, the company will alone be handling five times the total number of spacecraft launched worldwide.
Each satellite weighs nearly 570 pounds and features a compact, flat-panel design. It is equipped with 4 powerful phased array antennas, a single solar array, efficient ion thrusters powered by krypton, and an autonomous collision avoidance system.
The total estimated cost of this decade-long project is about $10 billion. This covers designing, developing, and deploying Starlink satellites in LEO.
There have been growing concerns that the mega network of satellites could litter LEO with hundreds of dead satellites. However, SpaceX has explained that ‘dead’ satellites will deorbit naturally, burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The company came under major heat for charges that its satellites interfere with astronomical observations of the night sky. SpaceX took this problem seriously and started treating satellites with a special [black] coating to make them less reflective and less likely to interfere with cosmic observations
To accelerate the Starlink’s progress, SpaceX plans to deploy 60 satellites per Falcon 9 launch, with launches as often as every 2 weeks.