SpaceX said it launched 60 low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites last week to support its ambitious plans to use thousands of LEO satellites to provide a global low-latency SpaceX satellite broadband service to be known as Starlink. By using LEO satellites, SpaceX Starlink expects to address latency issues associated with broadband service delivered from satellites in higher-altitude geostationary orbits.
“This mission will push the operational capabilities of the satellites to the limit,” said SpaceX in a press kit fact sheet about Starlink. “SpaceX expects to encounter issues along the way, but our learnings here are key to developing an affordable and reliable broadband service in the future.”
SpaceX is not expected to be alone in the LEO satellite broadband market. Amazon’s Project Kuiper also aims to deliver LEO satellite broadband service, as do projects planned by OneWeb and others.
SpaceX Starlink Low-Latency Satellite Broadband
Features of the SpaceX Starlink satellites include:
- A weight of just 227 kilograms (about 500 pounds), which enables the satellites to be mass manufactured
- Hall thrusters powered by krypton to adjust position and orbit as needed
- A star tracker navigation system that allows SpaceX to point the satellites with precision
- The ability to track on-orbit debris and autonomously avoid a collision
- 95% of the satellite components will quickly burn in Earth’s atmosphere at the end of each satellite’s lifecycle, exceeding current safety standards – and plans call for complete disintegration in the future
Previously, SpaceX said it planned to deploy a total of 4,425 satellites to support its satellite broadband service.
According to a SpaceX press release, the company used a single rocket to launch the 60 satellites last week, later landing the rocket’s first stage on a droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Just over an hour after liftoff, the Starlink satellites were deployed at an altitude of 440 kilometers (km), about 273 miles. The satellites then used onboard propulsion to reach an operational altitude of 550 km, about 341 miles.
If SpaceX or its rivals succeed in delivering low-latency satellite broadband across the U.S., they will bring new competition to rural areas, potentially saving U.S. consumers as much as $30 billion annually, according to a recent report from BroadbandNow.