Elon Musk is at it again, wait, no, we’re not talking about getting in a fight on social media — we’re talking about out-of-this-world innovation… literally. Musk, well-known for his grandeous plans, including space exploration, the future of rapid transit, and the popularization of the electric vehicle, among others. Now, he’s looking at providing the entire world with internet access.
While most of the developed world has reasonable access to fast internet, it can still be difficult and costly to provide access to distant rural communities. Much of the developing world, on the other hand, does not have access to an affordable internet connection, and developing countries often cannot afford to install the necessary infrastructure. Musk’s plan, dubbed Starlink, would circumvent this problem by relying on a massive array of satellites in orbit, offering high-speed satellite internet access all over the world. All in all, SpaceX estimates that it will take at least 1,800 satellites to provide global coverage, and they’re planning on having at least 12,000 satellites in the constellation.
The idea behind Starlink is that, since Musk already has access to a launch platform to send the satellites to space, the only development costs are for the satellites – costs that are far lower than ensuring all households around the world have a wired connection. Musk expects that, because of the lower initial investment required, Starlink will be able to offer fast, reliable internet service to everyone, including those who have no other options. As per Musk, Starlink’s services will be at a price point that will beat out their competitors, while still generating profit – profit that Musk intends to use to help fund SpaceX’s ultimate goal of sending a human to Mars.
On May 23rd, Musk took the first steps to realizing this goal; SpaceX launched the first set of 60 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral. Their ingenious stackable flat design and light weight, coming in at only about 500 pounds, were crucial in getting them off the ground, allowing SpaceX’s Falcon rocket to be filled to the brim with Starlink satellites (see below).
At 60 satellites per launch, Elon Musk figures that it will take six more successful launches to achieve minor coverage, and after a dozen launches, when the Starlink constellation reaches 800 satellites, SpaceX plans on making the constellation operational. We say successful launches, as Musk himself has pointed out that we’re entering new territory, and that he expects there to be setbacks and difficulties to overcome as the system is streamlined. Currently, SpaceX plans on launching approximately a thousand satellites a year, until the constellation is fully saturated.
This ambitious plan involves launching more satellites over the next twelve years than all the countries in the world have currently put in space, leading some to worry about the possibility of congestion and increased collisions between satellites and space debris. Starlink’s satellites are designed with this in mind; All of Starlink’s satellites are fitted with krypton-based ion thrusters, allowing them to track and avoid objects that may cause a collision, and Musk intends to continue improving on the Starlink design.