According to a study carried out in January of this year, 41% of the world population does not have access to the internet, this supposes that more than 3 billion people are being left out of the digital revolution. Throughout the earth there are many projects that are going to revolutionize the world in one way or another, science projects, infrastructure, innovation, research or space projects.
SpaceX is one of the most prominent companies today as well as its founder Elon Musk, who is one of the most admired and loved men in the world. SpaceX is running a space program like no other, one that will change the world in many ways and one that is likely to have more impact on our daily lives. This is how the starlink project was born in January 2015. Whose mission is to put into orbit around the Earth a mega constellation of satellites that will offer digital internet to all corners of the planet.
But, what exactly are starlink satellites?
In 2018 SpaceX launched a rocket full of 60 satellites into space, marking the beginning of the ambitious Starlink project; this project is really incredible. Starlink was developed to provide high-quality broadband internet to the most isolated parts of the planet while also providing low-latency connectivity to already well-connected cities. In other words, this project wants to connect the world in a global network with low cost and a very low speed.
To be more specific we will give an example: surely it has happened to you that you are going on a trip and many times the internet connection of your cell phone is not good or you simply cannot find the nearest antenna. Well what happens is that the starlink network connection will be worldwide, which means, there will be no point on earth where you do not have an internet signal, whether you are in a boat in the middle of the sea or in some remote point of the earth, you will always have an internet connection.
How many satellites have been launched?
SpaceX has launched 9 rockets with an average of 60 satellites each, little by little this project is having many more satellites in space. Today it has 540 satellites in orbit, but the objective of the project is to create a constellation of more than 40 thousand satellites throughout this decade. This would dramatically increase the number of satellites in space, in fact it would be 10 times higher.
This project has given much to talk about in the scientific community since the large number of satellites has caused discontent with scientists and astronomers because the brightness of the satellites makes it difficult to see the sky. And this is just the beginning, since only 500 satellites have been sent, but with the passage of time more and more satellites will be put into orbit in view of the ground-based telescopes, it will get worse. In addition, this project will cost billions of dollars to SpaceX and its investors, there must be a good purpose to be carried out.
What is the main purpose?
The purpose is practically to beat the 5G race. It is estimated that moving the US from a 4G connection to a 5G will cost around 150 billion dollars in fiber optic cabling in the next 7 years. But SpaceX plans to complete its entire Stralink project with only10 billion dollars, which is, 15 times less than the 5G network. This could be done because each satellite will cost around 300 thousand dollars, being much cheaper than conventional satellites.
In 2015 Elom Musk announced that SpaceX had started to work on a communication satellite network, indicating that there was a significant unmet demand for low-cost global broadband. What he tried to imply is that there were places where the internet connection did not reach and the places where already had connection the prices were very high. That is why around that time SpaceX opened a new facility to develop and manufacture these new communication satellites.
The initial plan was to launch two prototypes of satellites in orbit by 2016 and have the initial satellite costing in operation by 2020. So this year it would be assumed that we would already have the global network, but the company had problems developing a receiver that users could installed easily for a low cost and this delayed the program and the initial prototypes of satellites were launched until 2018.
What is the role of satellites already in orbit?
Currently these satellites will only be used to test things like Earth’s communication systems and ionic krypton propellers that will be used to avoid debris and spacecraft orbit once the life cycle of these satellites has ended. The Starlink satellites will be 550 km above the ground, in fact they will be further away than the international space station (ISS) which is 400 km above the ground. They will also be used initially to test gyros to further develop collision projection systems to allow satellites to adjust orbits to avoid a collision, and this is because space debris is very dangerous. Although most space debris is small, the speeds in space are very large. For example, imagine that you have space debris the size of a coin, but it is traveling at a speed of 27,000 kilometers per hour, the force generated by a shock is much greater than that of a bullet.
What will happen to those satellites when their useful life ends?
Another point that is touched is what will happen to those satellites when their useful life ends. Until today many of the satellites that were launched stayed flying in space or were destroyed but their parts stayed in space. That is where the space debris comes out so when the satellites have reached the end of their useful life they can use the same propulsion system to put them out of orbit and enter back into the atmosphere to get burned. In addition SpaceX is including all the necessary hardware to minimize the risk of space debris, in fact it is expected that 95% of the satellites will burn upon re-entry leaving very little waste flying over our planet.
What would happen if everything goes according to plan?
This system will be much faster than conventional internet systems. The average latency, that is, the time it takes for the information to go from one point to another with the current 4G is 50 milliseconds and this project in the open Beta version that will be available in the final months of the year, will have an average latency of 20 milliseconds that is much higher than any conventional wireless system. Starlink will start in 20 milliseconds but Musk said in press conferences that he promises to lower it to 8 milliseconds in latency. Thus competing with 5G, which has a much lower latency, but unlike 5G technology, space technology has a potential far greater than what can be done on earth. In addition, 5G is just reaching the big cities and what this satellite network is looking for is not to reach only the big cities but to the whole world.
If all goes according to plan, Starlink is estimated to generate $ 30-50 billion each year and this is a vital part of Elon Musk’s long-term plan.
The money generated by Starlink could mean that SpaceX will have much more funding than NASA itself, which is why they could finance the research and development of new rockets and the technology needed to create colonies on the moon and Mars.
For now the project is simply connecting to the world even more and potentially will open paths for the education of third world countries that do not yet have adequate internet connection.
Stralink is a project that will change the way people communicate in the world and open new doors for emerging markets and people who previously did not have the resource of a good internet connection.