Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX is deploying internet-beaming Starlink satellites to offer affordable broadband internet globally. Starlink will provide revenue to fund the company’s space program, which includes building a fleet of Starships to make life multi-planetary. SpaceX founder Elon Musk envisions a base on the lunar surface and a permanent human presence on Mars. Starlink customers will be supporting that ambitious endeavor that will change the course of humanity’s future.
Early Friday, August 7, SpaceX launched its tenth batch of internet-beaming Starlink satellites, bringing the total number of satellites in orbit to 595. SpaceX officials say the network needs at least 800 satellites to offer ‘moderate’ internet coverage. The Starlink constellation will be composed of around 12,000 satellites. According to SpaceX officials, 60 satellites can provide service to around 40,000 individuals streaming high-definition content at the same time. Musk shared Starlink will offer low-latency broadband -“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 earlier this year during the Satellite 2020 conference. Customers will receive signal via a router and a dish user terminal, pictured below. SpaceX already initiated its private Starlink Beta testing program which will offer engineers insight into the network’s capabilities. The company also plans to roll-out a public Beta testing phase, you can sign up for updates via Starlink.com.
Today, SpaceX deployed 57 internet-beaming satellites all equipped with a deployable sun shade visor, referred to as ‘VisorSat,’ meant to reduce the satellites visibility from the ground. – “All Starlink satellites on this flight are equipped with a deployable visor to block sunlight from hitting the brightest spots of the spacecraft – a measure SpaceX has taken as part of our work with leading astronomical groups to mitigate satellite reflectivity,” the company wrote in a press release. Astronomers have voiced their concerns over ‘Starlink appearing too bright.’ Days after deployment, the fleet of Starlink satellites navigate at lower altitudes, in train-like formation visible to the naked eye. The reflectivity is due to the sun’s light hitting the satellites’ solar panel and antenna arrays. It can take around three weeks for all satellites to reach their operational altitude(s) where they become less visible from the ground. The network’s initial phase, is to deploy about 1,584 satellites into an altitude of 550-kilometers above Earth.
The company states --
“SpaceX is launching Starlink to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband connectivity across the globe, including to locations where internet has traditionally been too expensive, unreliable, or entirely unavailable. We also firmly believe in the importance of a natural night sky for all of us to enjoy, which is why we have been working with leading astronomers around the world to better understand the specifics of their observations and engineering changes we can make to reduce satellite brightness.”
SpaceX’s key solutions to reduce Starlink’s reflectivity are to reduce reflection on antenna during sunrise and sunset. “The key to making Starlink darker is to prevent sunlight from illuminating these white surfaces and scattering via reflection toward observers on the ground,” SpaceX explains, “Satellites are visible from the ground at sunrise or sunset. This happens because the satellites are illuminated by the Sun but people or telescopes on the ground are in the dark. These conditions only happen for a fraction of Starlink's 90-minute orbit.”
SpaceX plans to make the satellites “generally invisible to the naked eye within a week of launch” by integrating a 'deployable visor' to each satellite, as well as modifying the satellites orientation to minimize the potential of reflectivity as each satellite maneuvers through orbits in space. These visors are made up of a radio-transparent foam material, to decrease the potential of interference that may affect the satellite’s signal performance. VisorSats will shield from the sun’s rays and minimize the potential for reflection on the satellites' chassis where the antennas are located. It is the first batch of Starlink satellites that feature the deployable visors. It will take a few weeks for the satellites to rise into an operational altitude as engineers assess the visors' performance. If the mechanism generates positive results in reducing the satellite’s brightness, SpaceX will deploy all future satellites with a visor.