Look up and count the Starlinks…

On the morning of January 24, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, 10 upgraded Starlink satellites shot up into the sky.  

These are some of Elon Musk’s widely praised (and also criticized) satellites that will soon be peppered all over the night sky – much to the annoyance of amateur astronomers.

New and improved constellations…

 

The unique addition to these 10 Starlink satellites is a black pipe called the “laser link”. This upgrade will help bring more internet access to people who lack a strong connection.

Current services that offer internet to rural areas like Viasat and HughesNet have problems with being slow and unreliable. So, SpaceX hopes to solve these issues by having a constellation of Starlink satellites orbit closer to the earth – at an altitude of about 340 miles up in the clouds.

In May 2019, the first batch consisted of 60 satellites. And since then, more than 1,000 have been sent up to the heavens. Overall, SpaceX hopes to be approved to launch 42,000 satellites. To illustrate how many that is: Only about 5,000 satellites total were orbiting the earth at the beginning of 2019…

How does Starlink internet work?

First, a user connects their home router to a satellite dish near their home. The satellite in the sky then picks up the signal from the dish and connects it to a large SpaceX ground stationVoila – you now have super-fast internet!

But if a satellite can’t locate a ground station, the plan is to use laser links (those black pipes mentioned before) to connect between satellites and find a pathway to find a good connection.

These 10 new satellites are the first in the constellation to use laser links and are the first to be launched to a polar orbit.

What flies ahead for these satellites

 

All Starlinks are expected to have laser links on them to create more powerful communication signals by next year.

In 2018, research by Mark Handley at the University College London suggested that the links could be faster than fiber-optic connections.

So, you might be thinking: why not just have laser links on all of them? The biggest obstacle is cost – as the Starlink team said on Reddit: “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 satellites launched in April 2020 are expected to orbit our planet for 3-4 years so the opportunity for upgrades will be present. And we’ll see what other ideas SpaceX will think of next!

Do you think having so many satellites is worth getting internet to people? Or do you think it will cause unnecessary sky pollution?

Let us know what you think in the comments section down below!