SpaceX engineers participated in a Reddit 'Ask Me Anything' discussion on May 15. They provided details on the company’s projects, including their Starlink broadband internet infrastructure that is a work in progress. SpaceX Engineer Natalie Morris, who leads software test infrastructure for the Starlink satellites, shared that they upgrade the Starlink network on a weekly basis. “We try to roll out new builds to our entire fleet of assets […] once per week,” they wrote via Reddit. The Starlink ‘assets’ include around 1,677 satellites that are already in orbit, ground stations, user dish antennas and Wi-Fi router devices. The company says its phased-array antenna dish that customer’s purchase to connect to the space-based internet is more advanced than what is currently in-use onboard fighter jets. “Nearly all of our deployment and testing tools are built in house, mostly because our architecture is so unique and the various constraints we have to work with would require significant customization of off the shelf tools,” Morris stated.
Once a week, engineers introduce system upgrades to Starlink units, “Every device is periodically checking in with our servers to see if it's supposed to fetch a new build, and if one is available it will download and apply the update during the ideal time to minimize impact to users,” Morris said, “This means we can really easily test builds on a small pool and move to exponential deployments by changing a few configurations in a database.” Morris went into further detail and shared that SpaceX designed the Starlink infrastructure “so that each asset (which can contain dozens of separate computers) updates atomically by first fetching a new package to a central node, and having all of the other computers fetch updates from that central node,” they explained in the Reddit post. “Every device also retains a backup copy of the last good software so if anything goes wrong (like a radiation induced power fault) during the update it automatically recovers by booting into that backup,” they shared.
All Images Source: SpaceX
These network upgrades seamlessly improve the Starlink user experience. For example, over the winter SpaceX rolled out a ‘Snow Melt Mode’ upgrade to the Starlink dish antenna “during which Starlink [dish] produces additional heat to mitigate signal attenuation caused by snow build-up on the face of the user terminal,” the company said. Starlink Beta testers have shared via social media that the dish did melt the snow efficiently. Most recently, engineers have been rolling-out software upgrades that have enabled users to experience high-speed internet over 150Mbps (megabits per second), some users even surpassed 300Mbps when they performed an online speed test. However, these speeds are likely to drop and fluctuate because Starlink is still running on beta mode. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said Starlink will be capable of delivering reliable internet connection of around 300Mbps before this year ends. As more satellites are launched to orbit they will be capable of providing a more stable internet connection. SpaceX will launch the 29th fleet of 60 Starlink satellites on Wednesday, May 26.
SpaceX manufactures Starlink satellites and hardware at a factory in Redmond, Washington State. The company has plans to open a new manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas, to scale production of the equipment needed to connect over half-a-million customers who already pre-ordered the service via Starlink.com. “For the production scale we're looking to achieve with Starlink kits, we've been building from the ground up for much of what we're doing here, growing into a new factory with new software systems that have been designed with Starlink's planned scale in mind,” said SpaceX Engineer Kristine Huang, who leads application software for Starlink constellation. “The software team is colocated in the factory with everyone else that is thinking about this problem, and they have spent time building Starlinks on the line to ensure they've understood the high rate manufacturing processes as well as they can,” they shared, “For a factory producing at our desired target rate we're looking to have a highly integrated factory system, with automation, robots, people, and software working together. The guiding principle is generally to keep looking for how much we can simplify what we're doing,” Huang said. Author's note: Thanks for supporting TESMANIAN! Twitter: Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
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.