SpaceX Starlink: Here’s everything you need to know

Unless you’ve been living in a technological black hole for the last few years, you’ve probably heard of Elon Musk, and read stories about his ambitious ideas and startups. Between sexy electric cars, “hyperloop” transit systems, reusable rockets, and Mars colonies; there’s certainly no shortage of things to look forward to from the guy. In this article, we’ll explore one of his more intriguing pursuits, dubbed “Starlink,” and the implications it has for both the internet and the world at large. Here’s a breakdown of what SpaceX Starlink is, and why you should get pumped about it.

Humble beginnings

spacex block 5

In 2015, Musk began probing the FCC about testing a “global broadband” system, and in September of 2017 filed applications for a satellite based broadband network called (you guessed it) Starlink, with the objective of eventually building a low-cost, satellite based broadband network capable of delivering internet access to the entire globe.

Sounds pretty straightforward — but what makes Starlink special compared to conventional satellite internet? Well, to put it plainly: while satellite internet has been around for ages, it has generally suffered from high latency, unreliable connections, and spotty service areas. With Starlink, SpaceX intends to put a “constellation” of satellites in low earth orbit, thereby providing high-speed, cable-like internet to every corner of the planet. The project is expected to cost around $10 billion in total.

The road ahead

To give you a sense of just how formidable a challenge this is, here are some numbers: There are currently only 1,459 satellites currently in orbit around earth, along with 2,600 inactive. SpaceX will need to launch 4,425 satellites into orbit to achieve its desired coverage. That’s going to require a lot of rockets, a lot of fuel, and a lot of money.

APRIL 12, 2017 -SpaceX Dragon satellite module SPACEX

The project is ambitious to say the least, but the payoff will presumably be immense. Imagine having blazing fast internet available all the time, no matter if you’re were in the middle of a crowded city or deep in the Amazonian jungle. Slated for as soon as 2024, this theoretical blanket of broadband isn’t that far off. If this project comes to fruition, it would make low latency internet available to locations that previously had either poor service, or none at all. The impact such a network might have on Earth remains to be seen, but Elon Musk is already thinking beyond our pale blue dot. In the long-term, SpaceX intends to develop a similar system to deploy on Mars for future colonization attempts, and will use the Starlink project to lay the foundation for those efforts.

The first successful launch

Starlink Launch

On February 22, 2018, SpaceX and Starlink took a huge step: The project successfully launched the first two Starlink test satellites (named Tintin A and Tintin B) from the Vandenberg Air Force base in California.

This is still a very early development: The demo satellites are designed primarily to prove that the Starlink concept is viable. There’s no sign they will be part of the official Starlink grid once it starts to go up. However, the milestone is still a particularly important one that shows the project is ongoing and in good health.

Following the successful launch of the very first satellites, Starlink got some more good news: The FCC approved the official request for the project to provide broadband services. That means that if Starlink gets enough satellites in the sky to offer a commercial internet connection, they are free to offer it in the U.S. (and charge for it). Of course, a few satellites in a long way from the expected 800 or so, but FCC approval is still an important green light for the project…although the organization did admit some trepidation concerning the high number of planned Starlink satellite, tying approval to a robust requirement for managing orbital debris. In other words, Starlink will have to clean up all its messes.

A little competition…with Facebook?

SpaceX
GeoTel

Google may be messing around with balloons, but Facebook is investing in a project similar to Starlink, which could provide some interesting competition up in orbital space. We don’t know everything about the project yet, but we do know that Facebook is developing a satellite in house named “Athena” specifically to offer internet service to underdeveloped areas.

Athena is expected to launch on a trial run next year, after which things will get very interesting for Starlink. If the trial run is a success, we suspect Facebook will start working on a whole mesh of satellites in the Starlink model, pitting the two projects directly against each other.

Emerging Tech

Elon Musk receives FCC approval to launch over 7,500 satellites into space

Not surprisingly, SpaceX is thinking big with Starlink, its space-based global broadband network. This week, the company received FCC approval to launch 7,518 satellites into a low-Earth orbit for its satellite internet service.
Digital Trends Live

DT Daily: Global internet, quantum computing prove the future is now

Global internet, quantum computing, and fire-resistant exoskeletons may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but as we learned on today's episode of DT Daily, all these things may soon be reality.
Emerging Tech

Prepare for liftoff: Here are all the important upcoming SpaceX rocket launches

From ISS resupply missions to a host of communication and scientific satellite launches, SpaceX has a busy year ahead. Here's a rundown of some of the company's most important missions slated for the next year.
Emerging Tech

New simulation shows how Elon Musk’s internet satellite network might work

Elon Musk has the dream of building a network for conveying internet traffic via thousands of satellites. A new simulation created by a computer scientist looks at how feasible the idea is.
Emerging Tech

Stronger than steel, thinner than paper, graphene could be the future of tech

Since its discovery, graphene has set the research world on fire. What exactly is it, though, and what could it mean for the future of tech? Here's everything you need to know about what could be the next supermaterial to take center stage.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX makes rocketry look easy, sticks yet another Falcon 9 landing

SpaceX is due to perform its latest Falcon 9 rocket launch and landing on November 15 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Here's how you can watch the proceedings live.
Emerging Tech

In a weighty decision, scientists prepare to redefine the kilogram

Metrologists are meeting at the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles to vote on whether to redefine the kilogram as a constant that can be observed in the natural world.
Photography

See the National Forests like never before in these awe-inspiring drone videos

What's the difference between a National Park and a National Forest? Drones. With no ban on drones in National Forests -- at least, not yet -- filmmakers have a way to capture the immensity of these locations with stunning results.
Emerging Tech

Google’s balloon internet is coming to Kenya in 2019

In order to bring the internet to those who lack it, a company called Loon is launching balloons into the stratosphere. From more than 12 miles up, these balloons beam connectivity over a large area on the ground.
Emerging Tech

Hikers missing on Mount Fuji could soon find a drone buzzing above their heads

Hikers who go missing while climbing Japan's highest mountain could soon find a drone buzzing above their head. A new system using the flying machines has been set up on Mount Fuji for future search-and-rescue missions.
Cars

The world’s first 3D-printed titanium wheels are so intricate they look fake

HRE Performance Wheels and GE Additive have teamed up to create the world's first 3D-printed titanium wheels. They are not only impressively durable, but extremely lightweight as well.
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.
Emerging Tech

DJI Mavic 2 Pro vs Mavic 2 Zoom: What’s the real difference?

DJI's Mavic 2 series drones are ready to fly -- but which one is right for you? The Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom are nearly identical save for their cameras. Here's what you need to know about these powerful new UAVs.