SpaceX ‘built a U.S. world-leading manufacturing system' for Starlink

by Evelyn Arevalo August 12, 2020

SpaceX ‘built a U.S. world-leading manufacturing system' for Starlink

Featured Image Source: SpaceX Starlink

SpaceX is deploying a constellation of internet-beaming Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. The broadband network will provide revenue for the company’s ambitious goal of making life multi-planetary. SpaceX says it “built a U.S. world-leading manufacturing system,” producing Starlink satellites at an incredible rate. According to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) presentation document, the company is “now building 120 satellites per month.”

Out of the 12,000 satellites that will initially make-up the network, around 595 have already been deployed. Company officials said they expect to roll out Starlink service in northern portions of the United States and Canada once 800 satellites are in orbit.

Each satellite is small compared to others in orbit, featuring a single solar array. To navigate through space, the satellites are equipped with Krypton-powered Ion thrusters. It is the first spacecraft that propels powered by Krypton. Satellites feature the capability to avoid collisions with space debris and other spacecraft by moving autonomously, utilizing inputs from the Department of Defense’s debris tracking system. Navigation sensors, 'Star Trackers,' tell each satellite its attitude, which offers precision placement of the throughput of data.

The signal comes from and goes to the satellites’ four phased array antennas, pictured above. This compact, flat type of antenna can transmit in multiple directions and frequencies without moving. Starlink will beam data over Earth's surface at the speed of light, bypassing the limitations of our current internet infrastructure. The founder of SpaceX Elon Musk shared earlier this year that a fleet of 60 Starlink satellites can provide service to 40,000 customers streaming high-definition videos simultaneously. “We're targeting latency below 20 milliseconds (ms), so, somebody could play a fast-response video game at a competitive level, like that's the threshold for the latency,” he said.

SpaceX Engineer Matt Monson leads Starlink software development, during a Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ session he shared Starlink is “currently generating more than 5TB [5 terabytes] a day of data”. – “Each launch of 60 satellites contains more than 4,000 Linux computers,” Monson wrote. “The constellation has more than 30,000 Linux nodes (and more than 6,000 microcontrollers) in space right now.” 

“We’ve had many instances where a satellite on orbit had a failure we’d never even conceived of before, but was able to keep itself safe long enough for us to debug it, figure out a fix or a workaround, and push up a software update,” Monson shared. He also revealed SpaceX is beaming software updates to the Starlink satellites in space approximately once a week, “with a bunch of smaller test deployments happening as well.”

Source: SpaceX Starlink

Customers will receive Starlink broadband internet via a user terminal dish and router. SpaceX says it has “invested over $70 million developing and producing thousands of consumer user terminals per month” with a “high-rate production soon to come.” The FCC already approved the operation of 1 million dish terminals in the United States. SpaceX recently submitted a new request with the FCC, seeking to increase the number of Starlink user terminals and Wi-Fi routers to 5 million due to “extraordinary demand.” The company has already initiated a private Starlink Beta testing phase. Employees are actively testing the network before it rolls out service to the public.

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