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SpaceX Starlink mission
Credit: SpaceX via Flickr

Consumer Technology

Starlink Private Beta Testing To Begin In 3 Months, Public Beta Testing To Follow

With 422 Starlink satellites in orbit and 120 more due to launch soon, Elon Musk says private beta testing of the network will begin in about 3 months.

SpaceX has now launched 422 of its low Earth orbit Starlink satellites. 2 prototypes were sent up first in 2018, followed by 7 launches carrying 60 satellites each since then. The most recent Starlink mission took place on April 22. More launches are scheduled for May and June. That will be enough to start private beta testing of the Starlink network within the next three months, Musk says.

Starlink is intended to bring low cost internet coverage to parts of the world where getting online is a hit or miss proposition or simply impossible at the present time. So far, SpaceX has received permission to launch 12,000 satellites and plans to add 30,000 more on top of that. To put the enormity of the project in perspective, until this point, humans have launched a total of 9,400 satellites since Sputnik went up in 1957.

The Starlink satellites are orbiting about 300 miles above the Earth, which means each one can only “see” a relatively small portion of the Earth. It also means the satellites do not stay in one position above the Earth. Apparently, the Starlink units will be digitally linked together into clusters of 5, giving continuous service until the next cluster moves into position.

SpaceX Starlink mission

Starlink launch. Image credit: SpaceX via Flickr

According to TechCrunch, using low Earth orbit satellites makes the system faster than it would be if geosynchronous satellites 22,500 miles above the Earth were used. In satellite communications, a factor known as latency becomes important. That’s the amount of time it takes a signal to leave the Earth, bounce off a satellite, and return to Earth. LOE satellites have a latency of about 30 milliseconds. It takes nearly half a second for signals to make the round trip journey to a geosynchronous satellite and back.

Latitudes begin at zero at the Equator and get higher the closer they are to the poles. The high latitudes Musk mentions include Canada, which has yet to grant permission to activate the Starlink system over its territory. Musk says parts of Germany could also be considered as being in the higher latitudes where testing will begin.

So far, there has only been one major criticism of the Starlink system. Astronomers say the satellites are so bright in the sky because of reflected sunlight that they interfere with Earthbound research into the heavens. The redoubtable Mr. Musk has a solution. Starting with Launch 9, the satellites will be equipped with sunshades designed to reduce glare.

According to, Musk tweeted the next day, “It’s made of a special dark foam that’s extremely radio transparent, so as not to affect the phased array antennas. Looks a lot like a car sun visor.” Leave it to Musk and his minions to devise sun visors for satellites!

Musk and SpaceX are not the only ones vying to create vast space-based internet systems. Alphabet, parent company of Google, is working on a proposal that will use a number of helium-filled balloons to keep transceivers high in the air above the Earth. That system has the rather unfortunate name of Loon. Enough said.

Why all the interest in new internet technology? Part of it is a sincere desire to make the knowledge people have accumulated over the eons available to all people so humans can work together to solve common problems. Another less altruistic reason could be that knowledge is power and whoever controls the dissemination of information gains power over those receiving it. There’s also a lot of money go be made by connecting 8,000,000,000 people to servers. The desire to improve the human condition is one thing, but the impetus to make money is truly what makes the world go around.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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