In 2019, SpaceX launched the first 60 Starlink satellites. Since then, more than 2,000 have reached orbit, becoming part of a constellation of more than 12,000. Known as Starlink, the project aims to bring high-speed internet to every corner of the planet.
Founder and CEO of SpaceX Elon Musk announced the Starlink concept in January 2015, explaining that the company intended to launch only about 4,000 broadband satellites into low Earth orbit to provide low cost internet. For perspective, there were only about 2,000 operational satellites in orbit before Starlink, and humanity launched only about 9,000 craft into space in all of history.
Currently, fast internet access is only available in places with fiber optics. In remote locations, communications satellites provide links to the Internet, but the connections are notoriously slow.
These satellites sit in a geostationary orbit, meaning that they travel at the same speed as the Earth’s rotation and therefore remain positioned above the same point on Earth, according to the European Space Agency (ESA) (opens in new tab). This makes it easy to get satellite dishes to connect to, but the downside is that transferring data in this way takes time.
SpaceX aims to change this by orbiting the Earth with low-orbiting satellites, according to Starlink.com (opens in new tab). Individually they will not cover as much of the Earth’s surface, and they will not be geofixed, so there will have to be thousands of them to ensure complete coverage of the globe. But, as they fly low, it will cut the time required for a signal to travel from the ground to space and back again.
Achieving this is not a bad achievement. The closer a satellite is to Earth, the more drag it will experience from the edges of the Earth. atmosphere. To circumvent this, SpaceX designed the satellites to look like vertical shark fins, according to their website (opens in new tab), with a knife edge that cuts through the wind.
Each weighs only 550 pounds (250 kilograms), and it works a bit like a router. Its job is to simply receive signals, find out where they are going and transmit them. On Earth, users will have special dishes that attach to whichever satellite is closest.
How does it work?
The project is not without controversy. Each satellite has a solar array that stands out like a wing. At sunrise and sunset, it catches the light, making it shine like a shooting star. As the constellation moves upward, it leaves streaks on telescope images, obscuring the stars and planets behind. Space X has been working with astronomers to minimize the impact by shading and tilting the satellites to reduce the light reflected back to Earth, according to Space.com (opens in new tab).
The most likely high-profile project is the Vera Rubin Observatory, scheduled online in October 2023 in the Chilean Andes, according to Space.com (opens in new tab). This will be affected by bright satellite routes due to its wide field of view and high sensitivity.
The satellites also pose a potential threat to other orbiting objects, Live Science previously reported. They are already responsible for more than half of close encounters in Earth’s orbit, and that proportion will only rise, Life Science has previously reported.
In December 2021, the Chinese government filed a formal complaint with the United Nations after two near-hits at the China Space Station, Space.com (opens in new tab) reported. And, with at least 11 other companies already entering the satellite constellation race, the space is likely to become more complicated and crowded in the coming years.
To learn more about the goals of Starlink online, you can visit the satellite page at Starlink.com (opens in new tab). Additionally, you can read more details about the speed and coverage of Starlink online Tom’s Guide (opens in new tab).