The future of the internet may not be cables, but instead could be satellites in space, controlled and powered by Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX. This new internet service, called Starlink, uses small satellites to beam broadband down to Earth, with plans to launch nearly 12,000 satellites in order to provide high-speed internet access to billions of people worldwide. This raises some interesting questions about the future of the internet and whether we should be using satellites instead of cables.
What is it?
SpaceX launched 60 of its broadband satellites (Starlink) into orbit today, marking a new chapter in space exploration. While space travel has come a long way since NASA’s inception in 1958, we still have some way to go before traveling to space is routine. In the meantime, we must rely on others – like SpaceX – to push us forward. So what exactly is SpaceX? How does it work? And how will it change our internet-access experience in the future? We answer all these questions and more below.
When will it be available?
I think we will be able to launch two demo satellites on [SpaceX’s] Dragon 2 spacecraft — which is due to take its first flight later this year — maybe next year. And then full operational capability, probably beginning in about five years, he said. SpaceX’s satellite constellation could be fully functional by 2024 or 2025 and continue on for at least 12 more years after that.
How does it work?
Starlink will broadcast signals to specially equipped ground stations. The stations will then use relatively inexpensive flat panel antennas to receive and send data back to Earth. Users can connect to these antennas through their smartphone or computer, according to NASA.
Is it affordable?
No. According to SpaceNews, each satellite will cost roughly $5 million or less, but that doesn’t factor in launch costs. SpaceX hasn’t released any specifics on what customers will have to pay for service or how much they might save with a contract versus buying internet access directly from a ground-based provider like Comcast. But even if it ends up being cheaper than cable, it won’t be easy to get started: Starlink is only available in areas where there are no other options for broadband internet. That means you can use it if you live out in rural America and your nearest neighbor is miles away—but not if you live just outside of an urban area and your next-door neighbor has FiOS. (SpaceX says more cities are coming soon.)
How does it affect businesses/the economy?
According to SpaceX, two-thirds of humanity doesn’t have access to reliable high-speed internet. That means lots of lost opportunities for these people, especially those who can’t afford internet or don’t have enough broadband infrastructure in their region. But what if that changed? What if there was a way to get high-speed internet anywhere on Earth—even in remote places where it is not currently available? It could open up huge possibilities for education and work opportunities.
Other applications for Starlink
So what’s up with Starlink? While we don’t know exactly how its 5G satellite broadband service will work yet, one thing is clear: it’s not just about space internet. Not by a long shot. With more than 4,425 satellites on track to launch in 2019 and beaming down high-speed internet across low Earth orbit (LEO), SpaceX could eventually beam web access to people all over the world.