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SpaceX Starts General Rollout of Starlink’s Inter Satellite Lasers

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021 (8:17 am) - Score 1,272
starlink_satellites_with_lasers_at_bottom_photo

SpaceX has this morning launched another batch of 51 new Starlink ultrafast broadband satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which unlike prior launches are the first to adopt the new v1.5 platform design that includes inter satellite laser links to help boost performance, coverage and reliability.

So far SpaceX has managed to launch around 1,800 LEOs into space (over 1,600 are fully active) and their initial ambition is to deploy a total of 4,425 by 2024, which could then be followed by as many as 12,000 at a later date (possibly late 2026). The service has already gone live in the USA, Canada, the UK and is now extending into other parts of the world, albeit still in a pre-launch phase.

NOTE: Starlink’s compact satellites weigh about 260Kg each and tend to orbit the Earth at an altitude of between 540 and 570 kilometres.

We normally don’t cover individual launches as that would be far too repetitive, but this one is different because it represents the start of Starlink’s general rollout of satellite-to-satellite laser communication links – we originally expected this to begin in 2022 (see below), but it looks like they’ve moved that plan forward.

Contrary to some reports, this is NOT the first time that SpaceX has thrown Starlinks equipped with inter satellite lasers into orbit (outside of a trial). Back in January 2021 a small batch of similarly equipped LEOs were launched (here). At the time the CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, said: “All [our] satellites launched next year will have laser links. Only our polar satellites have lasers this year & are v0.9.” (i.e. no ground stations are needed over the poles).

The addition of lasers not only helps to improve general network performance and capacity management (i.e. latency and data speed), but it also aids coverage – particularly over the ocean – and reliability, partly because you don’t need as many ground stations to deliver your data packets between points. Such links may also improve resilience if, for any reason, one or more of your ground stations were unexpectedly disrupted.

As for the latest launch, Musk said: “These are V1.5 Starlinks with laser inter-satellite links, which are needed for high latitudes & mid ocean coverage.” Starlink’s UK based rival, OneWeb, also has an ambition to add laser communications, although it’s not currently known when that may appear, but it’s probably more intended for their future Gen 2 satellites in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO).

Currently, beta customers in the UK have to pay £89 a month for the service, plus £54 for shipping and £439 ($499) for the kit (dish, router etc.). But for that the operator claims you can expect to receive unlimited usage, fast latency times of 20-40ms, download speeds of between 50-150Mbps and uploads of c.20Mbps (such figures will improve as their network grows).

Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. Ranty says:

    OneWeb will be the BIGLIEST AND the bestliest AND the fastliest, because it’s 1000% British goddammit AND it will have Universe Beating GPS AND fricking laser beams, so there!

    1. Billy Nomates says:

      Galileo is useless junk that keeps breaking down, it’s not Global either. Why do people start foaming at the mouth about Oneweb or adding GPS to Oneweb (which yes, can be done despite what one anti-tory academic thinks, there are plenty of peer reviewed papers on how to do it out there)

    2. Simon says:

      OneWeb will slowly crash and burn..

      it only exists now because the UK government bailed it out with half a billion pounds.

      it may have had a future, right up until Starlink existed, now it’s effectively dead.

      Put simply, it cannot compete with SpaceX, they can launch dozens of satellites for a fraction of the cost, whenever they want, nobody else on the planet can do this.

    3. Gary says:

      @Simon

      Elon Musk fanboys need to calm down and stop frothing at the mouth about Starlink as it’s bound to fail considering its costs are virtually unable to be recouped bar a miracle.

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