Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been putting thousands of satellites into orbit. Many people say they’ve seen them in the sky.
They are part of the Starlink project, which aims to provide high-speed Internet service from space to remote areas of the Earth.
What is Starlink and how does it work?
Starlink provides Internet service through a vast network of satellites.
It targets people living in remote areas without access to high-speed Internet.
Dr. Lucinda King, space program manager at the University of Portsmouth, said, “There are these types of people in the UK, but there are more around the world, in places like Africa.”
Starlink’s satellites have been placed in low orbit around the Earth to make the connection between the satellite and the ground as fast as possible.
However, a large number of low-altitude satellites are needed to provide full global coverage.
Starlink is thought to have sent about 3,000 of them into space since 2018. Chris Hall, editorial director of the technology website Pocket Lint, said it could eventually use 10,000 or 12,000.
“Using satellites solves the problem of connecting the Internet to remote areas in deserts and mountains,” he said.
“It bypasses the need to build a lot of infrastructure (such as cables and masts) to reach these areas.
How much does Starlink cost and who will use it?
Compared to standard Internet providers, Starlink isn’t cheap.
It charges customers $99 per month (£89 per month in the UK). The antennas and routers needed to connect to the satellite cost $549 (£529 in the UK).
However, 96 percent of UK households already have access to high-speed Internet, as do 90 percent of households in the EU and the US.
“Most developed countries are already well established,” said Professor Sa’id Mosteshar of the Institute for Space Policy and Law at the University of London. “They rely on a small part of the market for revenue.”
The company says it has 400,000 subscribers in the 36 countries/regions it currently covers, most of which are located in North America, Europe and Oceania. This is made up of households and businesses.
Next year, Starlink plans to expand its coverage further into Africa and South America, and into Asia – a part of the world where Internet coverage is more dispersed.
“Starlink may be too expensive for many households in Africa,” says Chris Hall. “But it can play an important role in connecting schools and hospitals in remote areas.”
Is Starlink creating space clutter?
Starlink isn’t the only Internet provider with satellites in near-Earth orbit (LEO).
Amazon is planning to put its thousands of Kuiper satellites into LEO, and Oneweb is putting satellites there as well.
Sa’id Mosteshar said sending satellites into near-Earth orbit could cause problems.
“Satellites can hit other ships and create debris fragments, which in turn can cause more damage at high speeds.”
There have been several recent close calls involving Starlink satellites, including one with the Chinese space station.
“If there’s too much debris, it could make LEO unusable in the future,” said Dr. Kim of the University of Portsmouth.
“And we may not be able to get out of LEO into higher orbits where our navigation and telecommunications satellites are.”
Starlink’s satellites also pose a problem for astronomers.
At sunrise and sunset, they are visible to the naked eye as sunlight flickers off their wings.
This can cause streaks in telescope images that can obscure the view of stars and planets.
Starlink says it is trying to reduce the brightness of its satellites in the sky.