After SpaceX launched 60 more Starlink internet-beaming satellites yesterday, CEO Elon Musk confirmed the company would offer a public beta of the broadband service in about six months.
US consumers in poorly served broadband areas could get a first taste of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband as early as August. The public beta would follow a private beta, which Musk said in a tweet should happen in about three months.
The latest launch brought the total operational Starlink satellite count to 420, Musk also confirmed in a tweet.
He didn’t say which countries would be included in the beta programs, but Musk has previously said SpaceX intends to open the Starlink service in North America first, this year.
SpaceX has launched about 60 satellites per month since May and needs 400 satellites for minor coverage and 800 for moderate coverage in North America. It plans “near global coverage” in 2021, and eventually will launch as many as 12,000 Starlink satellites.
Yesterday’s Starlink payload on the Falcon 9 rocket was the seventh deployment, which launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The previous launch was on March 18, a week before would-be UK space broadband rival OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after coronavirus market turbulence derailed funding talks with its main investor, Softbank.
SpaceX once again showed off its reuse strategy to cut the cost of space launches. For this launch, the Falcon 9’s first stage was previously used on the Crew Dragon’s first flight to the International Space Station, the launch of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, and the fourth Starlink mission.
SpaceX last month gained approval from the US Federal Communications Commission to deploy a million user terminals, which Musk says look like a “little UFO on a stick” and will be simple enough for consumers to set up themselves. The units have actuators to optimize the antenna’s direction for receiving satellites signals.
Musk has said Starlink is intended to cover only about 3% of US households and suggested it could be a partner to traditional telcos rather than a rival.
He said the Starlink service will have a round-trip latency of 20 milliseconds. It will target a price of about $80 per month and SpaceX is currently seeking authority to apply for grants under the FCC’s $16bn Rural Digital Opportunity Fund on the basis that its latency comes under the FCC’s 100ms latency threshold.
SpaceX said yesterday, “Starlink will deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.” Musk replied, “Yes”, when asked whether it will be available across the globe.
Via SpaceNews, SpaceX this week also requested FCC permission to lower the altitude of 4,400 satellites from the formerly approved 1,200km above Earth to 550km (756 miles to 342 miles). The 4,440 figure represents the first third of Starlink satellites.
The FCC previously approved SpaceX to deploy 1,584 satellites at an altitude of 550km and now seeks to relocate 2,824 yet-to-be-launched satellites to new altitudes ranging from 540km to 570km.
It argues the lower altitude would reduce potential conflicts with other non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) systems and help reduce latency.
“Because of the increased atmospheric drag at this lower altitude, this relocation will significantly enhance space safety by ensuring that any orbital debris will quickly re-enter and demise in the atmosphere,” SpaceX execs said in the application.
The move, SpaceX argues, would increase the space between its satellites and other proposed NGSO constellations from OneWeb and Telesat, which the FCC has authorized to orbit at 1,000km and 1,248km from Earth (621 miles and 775 miles).
“And because of its closer proximity to consumers on Earth, this modification will allow SpaceX’s system to provide low-latency broadband to unserved and underserved Americans that is on par with service previously only available in urban areas.”