The fastest evolved technology that has taken over us in the past few years is the Internet. Will we be able to live a life without the Internet in the future? It is definitely a no-no to most of us, but while you scroll through this article, more than half of the world’s population is inaccessible to the internet or experiencing poor connectivity.
On the other hand, there is an increasing need for a faster network with low latency, the constant buzz over the 5G network would prove it giving no benefit of doubts.
So, when the world is juggling with two different needs, is there a way to bridge this gap between bringing a part of the world into the internet and improving the speed of the already well-established network? Well, Starlink promises it all.
Starlink is one of the pioneering projects of the Elon Musk owned aerospace manufacturer, SpaceX.
It is claimed that this project aims to form a satellite constellation with nearly 12,000 communication satellites in the Low Earth Orbit providing broadband connections with high quality and low latency, it also aspires to bring internet connections to even remotest parts of the world at low cost.
With having beta testing started in few areas, SpaceX holds promise of all the benefits announced.
Currently, the fastest communication on earth happen via fiber optic cables, we also have Geostationary satellites providing internet connectivity in rural parts, but Starlink is promising speed and latency that is far impossible to achieve with the existing technologies.
The present satellite internet providers offer a maximum speed of 100MB/s, Starlink is expected to offer a speed of 1GB/s, with latency targeted below 20ms. This variation in transmission speed can be explained by understanding the architecture and working of both the systems.
In the Starlink constellation, a satellite is connected to 4 other satellites, and each has four phased array antennas that are capable of transmitting cone beams, covering a radius of around 500kms. The radio signal observed by the antennaes of one satellite is transmited to the other 4 satellites connected using LASER lights, which inturn is transmitted around the network until it reaches the desired satellite.
Typically, it is known that light travels at different speeds in different mediums. Light traveling within the glass of the optic fiber cables is 47 % slower than the light traveling in the vacuum. This difference in property is ideally giving Starlink its benefit of a faster network.
For, Geostationary satellites, the distance they are orbited in the space is 36,000 Kms from the earth, while the Starlink satellites are orbited at an altitude of 550Kms from the earth. Practically, this huge difference in altitude aids Starlink satellites to achieve much lower latency.
At ground level, SpaceX is developing receivers for a low cost that are not more than the size of a Pizza box, which could be literally placed anywhere.
These elements as a whole improve the efficiency of Starlink at an astonishingly higher rate.
SpaceX has been following a strict deorbiting schedule to minimize the debris, so as the number of new satellites increases there are also few satellites deorbiting themselves now and then.
By now, you could have learned Starlink’s mission is to bring the whole world under one network of satellites, which means it definitely needs a lot of satellites in the sky.
It is aimed to launch 42000 satellites to form the Starlink network, and the FCC has approved 12000 satellites.
SpaceX launches its satellites on its own, they use the rockets designed in-house. So far, they have launched 895 satellites, including the latest launch in October which added 60 satellites to space using the Falcon9 rocket. Among the 895 satellites, 51 are deorbited leaving the active satellite count to be 844.
It is announced that the space pioneer will launch 60 satellites every two weeks in 2020, Also, apart from the renowned Falcon9, the Starlink satellites are also being prepared to be launched in a starship that can carry 400 satellites at once.
By now, SpaceX is really doing all it could to surge the number of satellites, and it is definitely in a good place to meet its aim of deploying 1440 satellites in its first phase.
This is a most sought after and an ironic question, most sought after because every one of you 5G is the next evolution in communication, ironic because 5G and StarLink have quite complementary properties. Yes, you read it right, they have complementary properties, Starlink holds its main mission as to bring the remotest locations under its coverage, while 5G is mostly available only in well-developed networks.
To be more precise on this, 5G is a cellular network that is connected through the ground. The cell sites backhaul 5G waves that use the existing frequencies. Having this said, Starlink is a complete opposite service that provides satellite internet coverage and it needs a specific receiver to receive data from the satellites, since to is a satellite coverage obviously its receivers need a clear view of the sky.
With these contrary properties, it is not more likely for Starlink to offer 5G services in the near future,
“It will serve the hardest to serve customers. 5G is great for high density situations, but it is not great for the countryside. So, any kind of sparse environment, 5G is not well suited. Starlink will serve the 3% to 4% hardest to reach customers for telcos. … So, I think it will be actually helpful and take a significant load off the traditional telcos.”Said the Spacex founder, Elon Musk
From this, it is clear that SpaceX is not planning to venture into 5G, at least not in the near future.
While the Starlink constellation has its benefits, it has its own issues that need to be addressed with greater care.
There are around 9000 satellites launched in space so far, and around 2000 are in use, now with SpaceX having planned to launch 12000 satellites, there is a higher probability of Kestler Syndrome to occur.
SpaceX explains that its satellites are powered with Krypton thrusters, the first of their kind, which enables them to adjust their orbits while active and allows them to de-orbit after its lifetime. They also assure that the satellites will re-enter far earlier than the international standards demand.
Astronomers worry that the SpaceX satellites are prone to light pollution as they were so bright. Now, this issue is addressed by introducing a darkening treatment and sunshades in the new satellites to avoid the reflection. As we talk about the light pollution these satellites cause, it is also important to know why Starlink satellites are so bright.
Though there are concerns about the potential growth of this technology, it is believed that the issues can be reduced with the right approach. The promised benefits will potentially help many rural communities to get education and other services that are enjoyed by the metropolitan cities.