SpaceX launched its latest batch of satellites to operate the Starlink satellite broadband service yesterday. The company also revealed that it now has 500K pre-orders for the service, with prospective customers paying $99 each.
Yesterday’s launch put 60 satellites in orbit and was actually the second Starlink launch in a week’s time. SpaceX now has about 1,500 Starlink satellites in orbit, forming a growing constellation to bring satellite broadband to the planet. Eventually Starlink could have as many as 12K satellites.
The company webcast yesterday’s launch and revealed during the webcast that it had received the 500K pre-orders. Starlink began taking pre-orders in February, and customers have to pay a refundable $99 fee to pre-order. Previously Starlink had confirmed only 10K beta customers. The service currently also requires a $499 commitment for equipment.
There has been plenty of speculation regarding SpaceX’s ability to scale Starlink, and reaching 500K pre-orders is noteworthy. The company has won provisional funding from the FCC’s RDOF program to serve 642K rural locations. Some, maybe many, of those 500K pre-orders may be already captured in the 642K RDOF commitments. But then again, maybe not.
Some have made an argument with the FCC that SpaceX won’t even be able to adequately serve the 642K RDOF commitments, much less hundreds of thousands more. Financial analysts MoffetNathanson estimate the total market for Starlink will be 300K to 800K households.
Between the 500K Starlink pre-orders and the 642K RDOF locations, SpaceX may have already surpassed that estimate. Is Starlink properly engineered to handle this much capacity? We’ll soon find out.
Always confident SpaceX CEO Elon Musk sees no problem. In responding to a CNBC report by tweet, Musk said that the initial 500K will receive service and Starlink’s only limitation will be serving a high density of users in urban areas.
In addition to serving stationary locations, Starlink has aspirations of providing satellite delivered broadband to moving customers on boats, trucks, RVs, and others. That adds even more potential customers and more capacity constraints to the service.