Spaceflight Insider

Elon Musk: SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband service meets key performance metric

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Photo Credit: Mike Deep / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Photo Credit: Mike Deep / SpaceFlight Insider

While casual followers of Elon Musk’s ventures may only know of his foray into electric vehicles and space launch services, the CEO of SpaceX also has his eyes set on being a major player in providing worldwide broadband internet services via a constellation of orbiting satellites.

To help the NewSpace firm accomplish this, the company deployed two technology demonstration satellites — TinTin A and TinTin B — as secondary payloads on the launch of Spain’s PAZ radar-imaging satellite on February 22, 2018.

Though satellite-based internet service is not a new technology, it does appear to be one ripe for a disruption — something which Mr. Musk seems to have a particular talent for. Indeed, the comparatively low speed and high latency of currently-available solutions have been factors hampering broader adoption.

SpaceX hopes to change that with the company’s Starlink service.

Traditional satellite broadband services have their spacecraft situated in geostationary orbit, approximately 22,500 miles (36,210 kilometers) above the equator. At that distance, it takes a significant fraction of a second for data to make the full trip, leading to a 600-800 millisecond (ms) delay — also called ‘latency.’ While this may go unnoticed with traditional web browsing, services like real-time communication and online gaming can be rendered nearly unusable.

Starlink, though, could be significantly more responsive by placing its satellites much closer to Earth. Rather than residing in geostationary orbit, SpaceX plans to host 4,400-plus Starlink satellites at 746 miles (1,200 kilometers) above Earth, while another 7,500-plus will be placed even closer at 211 miles (340 kilometers) in altitude. But how will Starlink compare to terrestrial broadband services?

Pretty good. TinTin A & B are both closing the link to ground w phased array at high bandwidth, low latency (25 ms). Good enough to play fast response video games,” tweeted Musk when asked about how the pair of satellites were performing.

By comparison, home internet services have latencies well-under 10 ms, with many often under 5 ms. Additionally, it is unclear whether Starlink’s performance takes into account additional hardware — such as wireless access points — that may reside between the base station and connected computers that could induce their own latency into the round trip path.

Nevertheless, the report of 25 ms is a significant improvement over current satellite broadband service and could be a boon for SpaceX as it seeks more revenue streams to fund Musk’s Mars-focused ambitions.

The company may find a ready market for areas in the United States that are underserved, or not served at all, by terrestrial broadband services. Additionally, with the company’s satellites providing global reach, Starlink could be positioned to offer services to remote and developing countries.

First, though, Starlink must evolve at least once more before it’s finally ready.

“Will do another rev before final design,” concluded Musk.

Deployment of TinTin A and TinTin B on PAZ mission.
Video courtesy of SpaceX via News Alternative Energy World





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.

Reader Comments

George Varall

Another press story indicated the price will be about $7.00 per month. Now that’s great! Competition from OneWeb may also help as OneWeb is building satellites right now for their low orbit setup for an Internet service. Signed with Jeff Bezos’s launch system Blue Horizon to place its satellites in orbit. Fun to see the competition in commercial space, I am lucky to live right across from the Kennedy Space Center and all the activity is amazing to be in a front row seat.

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