SpaceX intends to begin offering broadband Internet access services in the United States through the Starlink system from mid-2020, according to Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer. She noted that at the first stage the company will provide communications services in the United States and Canada.
In order to provide continuous service in the upper and lower latitudes, the company will need to launch from 6 to 8 batches of satellites. And to get SpaceX global coverage, they need to make 24 launches: “We need 24 launches to get global coverage,” noted Gwinn Shotwell, “Every launch after that gives you more capacity.” “We’re hoping for 24 launches by the end of next year.” SpaceX launched 60 satellites in May this year to test the system before preparing for a wider deployment. The company has FCC permission to deploy up to 11,943 satellites.
Earlier this month, the US Federal Communications Commission on behalf of SpaceX filed with the International Telecommunication Union 12 applications for 30 thousand satellites in various low orbits. As Gwynn Shotwell explained, SpaceX will not need as many satellites - much less is needed for global coverage, but the company wants additional spacecraft to offer customers customized service options. “We'll continue to upgrade the network until mid to late next year,” said Shotwell.
While SpaceX has said it intends to provide gigabit speeds and latency as low as 25ms, a big unanswered question is how much it will cost. SpaceX is apparently still trying to figure that out. According to Shotwell, millions of people in the US pay $80 per month for 'crappy service,' but she didn't said if Starlink would cost more or less than $80 a month.
SpaceX wants to offer Starlink to both home Internet users and the US government. According to Gwynn Shotwell, many Starlink features are being tested in the US Air Force research lab as part of the Global Lightning program. In December 2018, SpaceX received a $28 million contract for testing over three years of various ways in which the military use Starlink broadband services. During the test, in flight conditions in the cockpit of a twin-engine turboprop aircraft, it was possible to transmit data at a speed of 610 Mbps per second. SpaceX expects to offer broadband access to the US Government, but is now focused primarily on the consumer market. The company has yet to explore all the nuances of using the Starlink system to access the Network. To the extent possible, broadband services will be offered directly to consumers. But in a number of countries, SpaceX will be required to collaborate with local operators, explains Gwynn Shotwell. She emphasized that Starlink is a complement to SpaceX’s core business, the space launch service, and will not replace them as a major source of revenue.
User terminal design also remains to be completed, Gwynn Shotwell admitted. The prototype of the Starlink user terminal is with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. On October 22, he used it to send a tweet.
SpaceX will have to hire a whole new workforce to deal with sales, tech support and product engineering. User terminals are a major concern. “The more engineering we do on the user terminal, the less service people we will have to hire,” said Shotwell, Terminals are one aspect of the Starlink business that the company has to “get right,” she said. When consumers purchase a broadband service, they will receive a kit with a user terminal and cable, Gwynn Shotwell said. How to connect all this and where to place the terminal in the house, all these issues have yet to be worked out. Today, Starlink terminals are manufactured at the SpaceX plant in Hawthorne, California, but mass production will move in the future to another location that the company did not name. "Knowing Elon, he wants everything to be beautiful. So the user terminal will be beautiful," Shotwell said. SpaceX satellites use low Earth orbits, which should allow them to provide much better service than traditional broadband satellite systems.
SpaceX is keen to launch Starlink as several other companies continue to create competing broadband networks. According to Shotwell, the market has a place for at least two competitors. "If we do well and make money, there will be competitors." According to Shotwell, due to the fact that it is planned to launch new Starlink, SpaceX wants to make the most of the previously launched Falcon accelerators. “I think we’ll manage the fleet how best we manage the fleet,” she said. "Our intent is to use Starlink to push the capability of those boosters and see how many missions they can do." One Falcon booster was designed for 10 flights. The next Starlink mission, scheduled for mid-November, will be launched on its fourth flight.
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