SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company, has launched thousands of satellites into orbit. Many people claim to have seen them in the sky.
They are part of the Starlink project, which aims to deliver high-speed internet from space to remote areas on Earth.
What exactly is Starlink, and how does it function?
Starlink provides internet access through a vast network of satellites.
It is intended for people who live in remote areas and do not have access to high-speed internet. Dr. Lucinda King, the Space Projects Manager at the University of Portsmouth, says, “There are people like that in the UK, but there are more like them in places like Africa.” Starlink satellites have been placed in low-earth orbit around the Earth to maximize connection speeds between the satellites and the ground.
However, a large number of low-level satellites are required to provide complete coverage of the globe.
Starlink is thought to have launched 3,000 of them into space since 2018. According to Chris Hall, editorial director of the technology website Pocket Lint, it may eventually use 10,000 or 12,000 units.
“Using satellites solves the problem of connecting to the internet in remote locations such as deserts and mountains,” he says.”
It eliminates the need for extensive infrastructure construction, such as cables and masts, to serve remote areas.
What is the cost of Starlink, and who will use it?
Starlink isn’t cheap when compared to other internet service providers.
Customers pay $99 per month (£89 per month in the UK). The dish and router required to connect to the satellites will set you back $549 (£529 in the UK). However, 96 percent of UK households have access to high-speed internet, as do 90 percent of EU and US households.
“Most of the developed world is already well connected,” says Professor Sa’id Mosteshar of the Institute of Space Policy and Law at London University. They rely on a small market share to generate revenue.”
According to the company, it has 400,000 subscribers in the 36 countries it currently serves, most of which are in North America, Europe, and Australasia. This includes both individuals and businesses. Starlink intends to expand its coverage further across Africa, South America, and Asia next year – regions of the world where internet coverage is patchy.
“Starlink’s prices might be too high for many households in Africa”. “However, it could play an important role in connecting remote schools and hospitals.”
What role does Starlink play in Ukraine?
As Russian forces advanced in Ukraine, they disrupted Ukrainian internet services and attempted to block social media. Elon Musk made Starlink available in Ukraine as soon as the invasion began. Starlink has shipped approximately 15,000 sets of dishes and routers to the country.
“Starlink kept public services and government things going,” says Chris Hall. “The Russians haven’t figured out how to disable it.”
It has also been used in combat situations.
“Ukrainian forces are using it to communicate,” says Dr. Marina Miron, a defense studies researcher at King’s College London.”
It only takes 15 minutes to set up and its signals can’t be jammed like regular radio signals.
Is Starlink causing space pollution?
Along with Starlink, competitors such as OneWeb and Viasat, which also provide satellite internet services, are launching thousands of satellites into low-Earth orbit.
According to Sa’id Mosteshar, this will cause problems.
“It reduces the safety of space in terms of collisions,” he says.”
“When flying at high speeds, satellites could collide with other vessels and create wreckage, which could cause a lot more damage.”
“Several near misses involving Starlink satellites have recently occurred, including near misses with China’s space station.”
“If there are too many fragments, low-Earth orbit may become unusable in the future,” says Dr. King of Portsmouth University.”
“Our navigational and communications satellites may be stranded in low Earth orbit, and we may be unable to move them to safer, higher orbits.”
Astronomers are also having issues with Starlink’s satellites. They can be seen with the naked eye at sunrise and sunset because the sun glints off their wings. Streaks on telescope images can obscure the view of stars and planets.
“Astronomers identified the issues early,” says Professor Mosteshar. “They were the first to object.”