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SpaceX Set to Launch 2 Starlink Satellites to Test Gigabit Broadband

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 (11:32 am) - Score 1,111
falcon heavy spacex launch

Rocket company SpaceX will on Saturday launch a pair of small Low Earth Orbit (LEO) test satellites for their proposed Starlink service, which could in theory deliver ultrafast broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps and low latency times of just 25-35ms (milliseconds) across the world.

The Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b satellite(s) – measuring just 1.1m x 0.7m x 0.7m each with a mass of 400kg – will piggyback on a Falcon 9 rocket as part of a secondary payload, which according to this official FCC document will be used to “validate the design of a phased array broadband antenna communications platform.” The planned launch would be roughly in keeping with SpaceX’s originally announced 2017/18 time-line for the prototypes (here).

Assuming all goes to plan and the test spacecraft work as expected then SpaceX hopes to deploy a vast constellation of 4,425 satellites operating in 83 orbital planes (at altitudes ranging from 1,110 km to 1,325 km) by the end of 2024, which they claim could support “affordable … fiber-like speeds” almost anywhere in the world.

In this setup end-users would need to install “relatively small” flat panel terminals (the size of a laptop) on their homes, which will use phased array technologies to allow for highly directive, steered antenna beams. The first customers could then be live by 2020, long before the full rollout is completed.

This sounds like an ideal solution, not least for tackling the digitally disadvantage parts of our world (e.g. remote rural parts of the UK), although creating such a huge network of many small spacecraft (note: each LEO platform could handle an aggregate download capacity of up to 23Gbps) will not happen without some challenge or controversy.

Aside from the sheer complexity of managing such a huge “mesh network” via optical inter-satellite links and ground links, there are also separate concerns about the rising levels of “space junk” in orbit and ensuring that SpaceX’s LEOs decay out of orbit correctly so that they don’t add to the growing problem.

SpaceX’s rocket will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 6:17AM PT on Saturday (February 17th), which is about 2:17pm UK time.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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5 Responses
  1. New_Londoner

    Skynet is born!

  2. ASH

    What’s the point If it’s going to take them until 2024 and will only deliver 1gbps? 5G will be here before then with much faster speeds.

    • Tim

      You’re very mistaken if you think 5G deployment will be quicker. It’s taken just over 5 years to get where we are now and there are still a lot of places that have no/poor 4G coverage.

    • Max

      @Ash

      This isn’t so much a product for the western world, although it will be available. This is to provide people in developing countries without ubiquitous high speed internet. places like rural Africa, Bangladesh, Brazil etc.

  3. 4caster

    1 Gbps would be a dream. Many of us in the countryside don’e even get 1 Mbps, a thousandth as much.
    If the satellites are in ‘low orbits’ and cover most of the earth’s surface, they would need to be near-polar orbiters. Each satellite would be in range of every place on the earth for about 20 minutes on the northbound part of the orbit, and about 20 minutes on the southbound part or the orbit about 12 hours later. So there would need to be 36 satellites to ensure that just one is in range at all places and all times. In practice there would need to be considerable overlap so that users can move to the next satellite when the current one is about to go out of range. I would have thought that 83 satellites would be more than enough, i.e. if there are going to be 83 orbital planes there would be one per orbital plane. 4,425 satellites seems to be overkill, but I suppose it depends on how many customers each satellite can serve at a time.

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