SpaceX could begin beta testing its Starlink global satellite internet program within a few months, according to CEO Elon Musk.
In a tweet this week, Musk revealed that the Starlink private beta will begin within approximately three months, with the public beta coming in approximately six months.
Private beta begins in ~3 months, public beta in ~6 months, starting with high latitudes
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 23, 2020
He did stipulate that the beta would be “starting with high latitudes.” This likely covers the U.S. and Canada, and Musk also stated that this included Germany. Eventually, the plan is to roll out the service across the entire globe.
Musk did not reveal further details about what the beta program will involve, but people have speculated that the private beta will be just for Tesla employees and their families, similar to the way Tesla tests its beta software builds on the cars of employees first, before rolling them out to the public.
If everything works well during this early private beta period, the public beta will likely make the service available to a limited number of members of the public in particular locations. With such new technology, it’s likely that there will be lots of kinks and bugs to work out during the beta period.
The announcement of the beta program details came following a successful launch of a further 60 Starlink satellites this week, which were launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This brings the total number of operational satellites up to 420, which is an important milestone as it surpasses the 400 satellite mark that SpaceX wanted to achieve to start testing its network.
That doesn’t mean that the company is done launching Starlink satellites though, as it has another launch planned for as early as May. In total, around 720 satellites will be required to provide global broadband coverage.
As appealing as the idea of global broadband is, especially in rural or difficult to reach areas which currently have poor internet options available, the Starlink project has been controversial. Astronomers have expressed concerns that the satellites are interfering with their observations, especially during the launch period.
Projects like Starlink are more of a concern than regular satellite launches as they are a type called constellation satellites, in which large numbers of satellites work in unison. This means they cause more interference than a single satellite would. SpaceX is working on solutions to this problem like using a special anti-reflective coating on the satellites, but a fix is not yet in place.
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