SpaceX Starlink Internet Satellite Mission and Tech Details
November 6, 2019 •Evelyn Arevalo
SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, wants to fund their space program by offering internet services. They are developing a low latency, broadband internet system, named Starlink. Which consists of surrounding Earth with 12,000 satellites that will beam high-speed internet.
“SpaceX designed Starlink to connect end users with low-latency, high-bandwidth broadband services by providing continual coverage around the world using a network of thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit.” -SpaceX
Starlink will provide reliable, affordable internet all over the world. Which will benefit places where there is no internet connectivity, and where existing services are not reliable or too expensive.
Image: First batch of Starlink Satellites.
SpaceX successfully launched the first batch of 60 Starlink satellites a top a Falcon 9 rocket in May of this year. So far, there has been one launch.
The second launch of 60 satellites is targeted for next week, on November 11, 2019.
The company's goal is to start offering Starlink's internet service in the northern United States and Canada after 6 rocket launches with 60 satellites each. Then after 24 rocket launches, they expect to achieve global coverage. Nearly 12,000 satellites will be deployed by the mid-2020s, with a possible later extension to total 42,000 satellites. The goal is to finish the project by the year 2027.
If each deployment is successful, Musk, envisions a future where Starlink internet can help fund building a base on the Moon and colonizing Mars.
Design and Tech Details
Each individual satellite is about the size of an office desk with a launch mass of 227 kilograms (500.5 pounds). The design is a flat panel with a single solar array that unfolds upwards.
During Phase 1 of shaping the Starlink constellation, the first 1,584 Starlink satellites are planned to operate 24 orbital planes of 66 satellites each, inclined 53 degrees to the equator.
As time goes by, the Starlink constellation will consist of thousands of satellites deployed into orbit about 440 kilometers up (273 miles), and move along their orbits simultaneously, beaming internet down to Earth.
Ion Propulsion Systems
In order to move in orbit through space, the satellites are equipped with ion thrusters powered by krypton. Ion thrusters use a charge difference to shoot ions (charged molecules) out into a specific direction, creating force to move the satellite in the opposite direction. This propulsion system can also be used to deorbit a satellite when it stops working. To keep space clean and avoid contributing to the growing space junk problem, they plan to burn them up in Earth's atmosphere.
Autonomous Collision Avoidance
Satellites will also be able to autonomously move to avoid collisions with space debris and other spacecraft by utilizing inputs from the Department of Defense’s debris tracking system. Navigation sensors, 'Star Trackers,' tell each satellite its attitude, which helps enable precision placement of broadband throughput.
Once operating, each Starlink satellite will link to 4 others using lasers. No other internet-providing satellites do this. They will have the ability to allocate broadband resources in real time, placing capacity where its most on demand. And will also be capable of directing signal away from areas where it might cause interference to other systems, in space or on Earth.
The signal comes from and goes to the Starlink satellite 4 phased array radio antennas. This compact, flat type of antenna can transmit in multiple directions and frequencies without moving.
Starlink will beam data over Earth's surface at nearly the speed of light, bypassing the limitations of of our current internet infrastructure.
Musk said It will take about 400 satellites to establish "minor" internet coverage and 800 satellites for "moderate" or "significant operational" coverage. Each launch of 60 satellites would deliver 1 terabit of bandwith, that could potentially support 40,000 users streaming ultra-high-definition content at once.
Starlink mission will be heaviest @SpaceX payload ever at 18.5 tons. If all goes well, each launch of 60 satellites will generate more power than Space Station & deliver 1 terabit of bandwidth to Earth.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 16, 2019
Starlink will require associated ground control facilities and each Starlink customer would need a terminal to receive Starlink's internet connection. Musk said the terminal is about the size of a pizza box.
Last month, on October 22, 2019, Musk used a Starlink terminal from his home to send a tweet for the first time:
Whoa, it worked!!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 22, 2019
Mission patch for SpaceX’s first launch of the Starlink network. Source: SpaceX
Stay tuned for the second launch of Starlink set to happen next week! If everything goes as SpaceX planned, there will be 60 additional satellites shaping the beginning of the Starlink constellation.
Guaranteed to be exciting!
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.