OPINION: SpaceX’s upcoming Starlink mission means more than ending Florida’s launch drought
The Space Coast has not seen a liftoff from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) since the final “single stick” Delta IV took to the skies on Aug. 22. SpaceX is set to launch the second group of its Starlink satellites on Nov. 11, 2019, ending a two-month “drought” of ground launches from Florida. But the upcoming mission has a lot more riding on it other than just that.
While rocket spotters may be excited simply to see of launch the second batch of 60 Starlink broadband satellites, this mission could herald one of the greatest democratizations of information access the world has seen since the advent of the Internet. On the face of it, that’s a bold statement, bordering on hyperbole.
Think, however, how most – if not all – of today’s business, education, and manufacturing undertakings require Internet access. If one lives in an urban or suburban location, it may seem that broadband access is as ubiquitous as electricity, water, and other basic utilities. Indeed, I have had 1 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) fiber service to my home for more than three years.
But I live in a solidly middle-class suburb of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. Not so far away — a mere 20 miles — 3 megabit-per-second (Mbps) Internet access is the fastest that’s available. Imagine the impact that has on the economies of those areas… on the educational opportunities of students who live in those towns… on the prospects of future growth.
Would you move somewhere that has Internet that was only 0.3 percent as fast as you currently have? I’m currently house shopping and I have a few deal-breakers for a new home, the top of which is broadband Internet access. Realtors say that it is now not uncommon for a potential buyer to pass up a property if it doesn’t have adequate Internet service available.
SpaceX hopes to change that with their Starlink satellite broadband service. With a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites numbering in the thousands, the company will be able to provide high-speed Internet access to effectively the entire country, regardless of how remote it is. No longer will one be reliant on their local provider to decide when – or even if – they’ll provide broadband service to under-served (or altogether unserved) areas.
While I have often levied criticism against SpaceX, their leadership, and the company’s cult-like following, Starlink is something I wholeheartedly support. To be certain, SpaceX isn’t the only player in this space (pun intended). Blue Origin has plans to launch their own orbiting broadband solution, as does London-based OneWeb. But SpaceX is further down the path than their competitors, having already launched 60 satellites in May 2019.
Though I’ll be just as excited as other spaceflight fans regarding the upcoming launch, I’m even more excited about what this service promises to do for providing equitable Internet access for millions of people. Godspeed, Starlink.
The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SpaceFlight Insider
Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.
If SpaceX will provide fast and reliable, plus low prices, they could dominate the market. I live in one of those slow service areas and the price is high for what we get.
Yes, but all you talk about is the USA, WHAT ABOUT THE 6 BILLION OTHER PEOPLE IN THE REAL WORLDZ!
Starlink (and indeed Project Kuiper, Oneweb and any other similar proposed constellations) are *global* systems by their very nature.
SpaceX is only making so much noise because OneWeb is going to beat them to the punch. Their user terminals are much farther along, they need fewer satellites to start their service and most importantly, they actually have low cost antennas that can be mass produced.
Unlike SpaceX, which is scrabbling for a solution, OneWeb invested in this tech years ago. An investment that’s starting to pay off. Meanwhile SpaceX is doing the usual software development approach by throwing 80+ hour “crunch time” work weeks at the problem.
SpaceX COO was quite public recently about how far ahead their tech is compared directly with Oneweb and several other competitors.
Now she’s normally Elon’s foil wrt timeframes and other EM statements so this was pretty unusual for her.
Now not exactly unbiased comments but given how public they were and also that those competitors have been asked to respond but AFAIK they haven’t as yet, then perhaps you’d be kind enough to provide some evidence of your claims.