For those who still wonder what Starlink is, you can go and read the page on Wikipedia and without fear can believe what he is reading. It’s not science fiction, but reality. That visionary Elon Musk conceived and presented in 2015 the first plan that saw the creation of an infrastructure of 12 thousand telecommunications satellites orbiting the earth at an altitude of 550 km.
From the project to the realization the step was really short and the ability to develop technology and to put into practice what was proposed has meant that the first satellites were launched into orbit already in 2018, using the aerospace company Space-X (also Elon Musk).
The network is (almost) complete:
Today, Space-X continued the rollout of its Starlink broadband constellation with another launch of 60 satellites on April 7, moving closer to providing continuous global service.
A Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Space Force Station Cape Canaveral at 12:34 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time and just over an hour later its load of 60 Starlink satellites was already in orbit.
This was the tenth Falcon 9 launch of the year for SpaceX, eight of which were dedicated to Starlink satellites. The company now has 1,378 satellites in orbit if you take into account those launched and subsequently deorbited, according to statistics maintained by Jonathan McDowell (an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics).
This constellation is now close to the size needed to provide at least one basic service globally (hence that “almost” in the title) that make the network now available for planetary-scale beta testing:
“We have global reach, but we don’t yet have full global connectivity.”
said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, during an April 6 panel discussion at the Satellite 2021 LEO Digital Forum.
“We hope that after about 28 launches we will have continuous coverage around the world.”
This launch is the 23rd of v1.0 satellites, although some v0.9 satellites launched nearly two years ago remain in orbit, along with 10 v1.0 satellites launched into polar orbit in a mission in January.
This suggests the company will reach the continuous coverage milestone after four or five more launches.
Those launches would push Space-X against its current FCC license, which allows the company to operate up to 1,584 satellites in orbits at about 550 kilometers. The company’s current license from the Federal Communications Commission allows it to operate 2,825 additional satellites at altitudes of 1,100 to 1,300 kilometers.
SpaceX had filed a request with the FCC to modify that license, moving those additional satellites to 550 kilometers.
The FCC has yet to rule on that modification, but SpaceX’s current launch rate means the company will hit its current satellite limit at 550 kilometers within a couple of months.
Shotwell mentioned during an interview that the company is
“bringing our satellites down from our original altitude.”
to address space sustainability concerns. He did not, however, address the issue of amending the FCC license, other than to say that the company would continue to launch satellites “as we are allowed.”
Starlink remains in a beta test in the United States and several other countries. Shotwell said there are no plans to end the beta test and move to full commercial service in the near future.
“We still have a lot of work to do to make the network reliable. We’ll come out of beta when we have a really great product that we’re very proud of.”
What future for countries, cities and nations:
Undoubtedly the Starlink project is one of the most ingenious of recent years, in the field of telecommunications and along with the parallel project of Amazon (Kuiper) is redesigning what will be the possibility of interconnection at the global level.
While designing the new geographic maps based precisely on the ability to connect, these two companies are working to give everywhere, to anyone, the ability to stay connected at all times.
While until now the big infrastructure managers have had to deal with the availability of underground cables, often making every city a continuous construction site, we can already see a future where capillarity will be provided from the sky.
Countries or nations that do not have an organic infrastructure, due to economic availability or geographical conditions, will still be able to guarantee their citizens a broadband connection.
If this concept could be moved to a larger scale, it would be possible to have the services that a modern smart city or even a “Smart Country” can offer without city or national limits.
I remain curious to see how long this technology will remain to the private monopoly and which countries will first promulgate rules to include these services.