The news about SpaceX getting the go-ahead by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its next phase in deploying the low orbit Starlink satellite internet made me wonder how that many satellites would actually work together to provide the very high throughput and low latency network that Elon Musk has in mind. Here is a snippet from the FCC grant document:
On March 1, 2017, SpaceX filed an application for a proposed NGSO fixed- satellite service (FSS) satellite system in the V-band. The proposed SpaceX system consists of the addition of V-band frequencies to the 4,425 NGSO satellites previously authorized to allow the use of both Ku- and V-band spectrum for user links, and both Ka- and V-band spectrum for gateway links and tracking, telemetry, and command functions. SpaceX also proposes to add a very-low-Earth orbit (VLEO) NGSO constellation, consisting of 7,518 satellites operating at altitudes from 335 km to 346 km, using V-band spectrum for all links to and from associated earth stations. The V-band frequencies proposed are: 37.5-42.0 GHz (space-to-Earth), and 47.2-50.2 GHz, and 50.4-51.4 GHz (Earth-to-space).
In short: SpaceX got the green light for a total 4,425 satellites earlier, and now an additional 7,518 is good to go.
This stunning animation by Mark Handly from University College London beautifully visualizes the intricate dance of these satellites and how they connect to each other with lasers:
Ground base links? Tesla cars could actually be an integral part of that plan.
And how does this compare to the current internet configuration? Current satellites aside, take a look at this stunning animation by Science Insider of the global cabling comprising the current network that make the words I type reach your screen. Fascinating stuff:
Initially I thought Starlink would be a ridiculously expensive venture, but when you look at those cables, you realize that’s stupid expensive too. So space is the way to go. Space junk? Well, obviously the companies putting hardware in orbit should make sure decommissioned parts are scrapped in a responsible way, but that’s a whole other topic, and probably as difficult to assess as the economics of decommissioning nuclear power plants.
What’s especially interesting is how this accessibility to a dispersed global network will affect the remote communities of the world. Is this going to be cheap enough for anybody finally being able to access the internet from literally anywhere? I have no doubt in my mind that this is what Elon Musk intends.
If this happens, I think it will be truly transformative for humanity. Why? Well, if you live in a country where you experienced the birth of the internet in the 1990s, have struggled your way through low-speed modems, experienced the freedom of wi-fi, and marveled at the sheer magic of 4K video streaming, you will also have noticed the development in the countries getting this technology.
Now, imagine anyone anywhere getting gigabit-virtually-no-lag internet, and the opportunities this — as a base technology platform — can lead to. Entrepreneurship will hopefully emerge from unlikely places, and these places will likely be powered by renewables, because the power of the sun and the wind is dispersed already.