SpaceX is deploying a constellation of internet-beaming Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit where they will beam broadband service globally. Starlink customers will be supporting SpaceX's ultimate goal to make life multi-planetary. The network could one day provide additional funding to develop a fleet of Starships that will enable astronauts to colonize Mars. To date, SpaceX has deployed nearly 900 satellites out of over 4,400 it plans to launch. The company rolled out a beta service of the network for select customers living in the northern United States and southern Canada. To receive service from the satellites in space, users mount a phased-array antenna dish and connect via a Wi-Fi router device.
On Friday, SpaceX engineers shared details about the Starlink network via a Reddit 'Ask Me Anything' discussion. Currently, SpaceX sends invitations to potential customers living within range of the satellites in orbit, a Reddit user asked when SpaceX will offer Starlink service to the public. --"Steadily increasing network access overtime to bring in as many people as possible," the SpaceX engineer responded, "Notably we're planning to move from a limited beta to a wider beta in late January, should give more users an opportunity to participate." To potentially become a Beta tester of the Starlink network you can sign up via Starlink.com.
SpaceX engineers also shared that as of today, SpaceX's broadband service does not have data caps. "So we really don't want to implement restrictive data caps like people have encountered with satellite internet in the past. Right now we're still trying to figure a lot of stuff out--we might have to do something in the future to prevent abuse and just ensure that everyone else gets quality service," they stated.
SpaceX nicknamed the phased-array dish terminals "DishyMcFlatface" (pictured above). SpaceX says the dish features technology "more advanced than what's in fighter jets." The technology enables the dish to search for an optimal view of the sky and is capable of reorienting itself. SpaceX engineers shared how the dish is capable of locating the satellites in orbit-- "The Starlink actually has no knowledge of the satellites when it powers on; the constellation is updating all the time so this would be difficult to keep up to date," they said, "The Starlink is able to electronically scan the sky in a matter of milliseconds and lock into the satellite overhead, even though its travelling 17,500 mph overhead. When it detects a satellite the Starlink hones in on its position and makes a request to join the internet. After that, the dish is able to download a schedule of which satellites to talk to next and with that, it can point right at the satellites when the time comes," the engineer(s) wrote via Reddit.
A Reddit user asked SpaceX if they would be capable of moving the Starlink dish to a different address or on the go while traveling, to which an engineer responded --"Right now, we can only deliver service at the address you sign up with on Starlink.com. You might get lucky if you try to use Starlink in nearby locations, but service quality may be worse," they said. "Mobility options - including moving your Starlink to different service addresses (or places that don't even have addresses!) - is coming once we are able to increase our coverage by launching more satellites & rolling out new software."
SpaceX engineers said the Starlink dish terminal is 'not designed' to endure extreme weather. "We definitely don't recommend that you mount it on your flatbed and fly down the interstate into a storm!" they wrote, "The dish is not designed for tropical storms, tornadoes, etc. For high wind events it’s always the safer option to bring the dish inside if you have any concerns." Though, the Starlink dish "does have self-heating capabilities to deal with a variety of weather conditions. In fact, we'll be deploying a software update in a few weeks to upgrade our snow melting ability with continued improvements planned for the months ahead," the engineer shared on Friday. The company has tested the dish terminal in very low temperatures, "we've performed life-leader testing down to these cold temperatures with no issues the dish is certified to operate from -30C to +40C."
Starlink engineers will answer questions about the service today https://t.co/QL1pXC3lpC— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 21, 2020
SpaceX engineers are working to develop a 'Space Laser' system for the Starlink satellites to offer a faster broadband connection. "The speed of light is faster in vacuum than in fiber, so the space lasers have exciting potential for low latency links," the engineer stated, "They will also allow us to serve users where the satellites can't see a terrestrial gateway antenna - for example, over the ocean and in regions badly connected by fiber."
"We did have an exciting flight test earlier this year with prototype space lasers on two Starlink satellites that managed to transmit gigabytes of data. But bringing down the cost of the space lasers and producing a lot of them fast is a really hard problem that the team is still working on," the SpaceX engineer shared.
"We’re continuously improving all of the parts of the system. We update all of our satellites weekly, and push software updates to the Starlink dishes, WiFi routers, and phone app every couple weeks. All the feedback so far has been invaluable and is being directly incorporated into engineering decisions across the organization," they stated, "This has been really inspiring to us all. We're incredibly excited to continue on this journey together as we bring internet to disconnected populations across the world. And, then to Mars!"
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.