Starlink: The ambitious project of Elon Musk to provide internet from space

Starlink is a project by Elon Musk's company SpaceX that aims to provide high-speed, low-latency internet services from space, to remote and rural locations across the globe. In this answer, I will explain what Starlink is, how it works, how much it costs, who will use it, how it is helping in Ukraine, and how it is a leader in space sustainability.

What is Starlink and how does it work?

Starlink provides internet services via a huge network of satellites. It is aimed at people who live in remote areas who cannot get high-speed internet. "There are people in the UK in that category, but more across the world, in places like Africa," says Dr Lucinda King, Space Projects Manager at the University of Portsmouth.

Starlink's satellites have been put in low-level orbit around the Earth to make connection speeds between the satellites and the ground as fast as possible. However, a great many low-level satellites are needed to provide full coverage of the globe. It's thought Starlink has put some 3,000 of them into space since 2018. It may eventually use 10,000 or 12,000, says Chris Hall, editorial director of the technology website Pocket Lint.

"Using satellites solves the problem of getting internet connections to remote locations in deserts and mountains," he says. "It bypasses the need to build massive amounts of infrastructure, like cables and masts, to reach those 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 dish and router needed to connect to the satellites costs $549 (£529 in the UK). However, 96% of households in the UK already have access to high-speed internet, as do 90% of households in the EU and the US.

"Most of the developed world is already well connected," says Professor Sa'id Mosteshar of London University's Institute of Space Policy and Law. "They're relying on a small share of the market for revenues."

The company says it has 400,000 subscribers in the 36 countries it currently covers - mostly in North America, Europe and Australasia. This is made up of both households and businesses. Next year, Starlink plans to extend its coverage further across Africa and South America, and into Asia - regions of the world where internet coverage is more patchy.

"Starlink's prices may be too high for many households in Africa, say," says Chris Hall. "But it could play an important role in connecting schools and hospitals in remote areas there."

How is Starlink helping in Ukraine?

As Russian forces have advanced in Ukraine they have closed down Ukrainian internet services and tried to block social media. Elon Musk made Starlink available in Ukraine immediately after the invasion started. About 15,000 of Starlink's sets of dishes and routers have been shipped to the country.

"Starlink has kept things going, like public services and government," says Chris Hall. "The Russians haven't found a way of disabling it."

How is Starlink a leader in space sustainability?

Starlink not only leads the industry in innovations to reduce satellite brightness, but also on-orbit debris mitigation — meeting or exceeding all regulatory and industry standards.

Some of the measures that Starlink has taken to ensure space sustainability are:

  • Using ion thrusters powered by krypton to adjust orbit, avoid collisions and deorbit at the end of life

  • Deploying satellites at an altitude where atmospheric drag will pull them out of orbit within a few years

  • Equipping satellites with sensors that can detect debris and autonomously avoid collisions

  • Coordinating with other satellite operators and sharing orbital data

  • Designing satellites to burn up completely during atmospheric reentry

  • Supporting research on orbital debris mitigation and remediation


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