Starlink has been a true revolution in space technology over the past few years. There were none in orbit until recently. There are now more than 2000 of these satellites. It is nearly half the number of spacecraft currently in operation.
Still, far from completion, the System is working and slowly changing the world. It is helping Ukraine resist the Russian invasion. Therefore, We would like to discuss how Starlink operates, its competitors, and its prospects.
The Starlink architecture currently consists of three components: A grouping of low-orbit satellites, a ground station network, and the user terminal.
Starlink satellites have been located on orbits with an inclination between 53 and 540 degrees. The choice of 53 degrees is not random. The 53-degree inclination covers most of the planet’s population, and the low altitude solves two issues. It reduces signal delays for the user. Second, the low orbit is like a natural defence system. If it does not work, it will burn in the Earth’s atmosphere and fall out of orbit in just a few short years. That reduces the chances of it colliding with other spacecraft.
Ground stations are another critical component of SpaceX’s architecture. They connect users with the World Wide Web. Simply put, each satellite is a repeater that transmits a signal to and from the users with satellite terminals. The result is some limitations in terms of technology. The ground station must also be within the satellite’s field of vision for the operation to work. The distance between the two should be no more than 1000 kilometres.
SpaceX has begun to work on reducing the System’s dependence on the ground station’s location. Starlink’s new devices, version 1.5 (v1.5), have a laser-based communication system. Satellites can exchange data, removing intermediate ground stations and allowing for greater distances.
User terminals are the third component of Starlink’s System. The latest version has a rectangular, 4.2kg antenna and provides a bandwidth of 1 Gbps. That is a theoretical figure. Starlink’s average download speed at the end of 2013 was 105 Mbps. The average upload speed, however, was only 12 Mbps. SpaceX gradually increases these numbers as new satellites launch.
Starlink Satellites and Their Evolution
Before discussing Starlink satellites, it is essential to note that despite their modernity, the systems have undergone several modifications designed to increase their technical capability.
First-generation satellites weigh 260kg and have four phased-array antennas that transmit data in Ku and Ka bands. Ionic engines based on the Hall Effect and krypton are used as working masses for manoeuvring devices. The satellites are equipped with a navigation system to avoid potentially hazardous objects. Satellites later v1.0 were also equipped with special protective visors that reduce their light brightness in the night skies.
SpaceX launched satellites with version 1.5 last fall. The laser communication system is what sets them apart from their predecessors. The devices of v1.5 “gained” about 35kg, compared with v1.0.
SpaceX engineers have already begun creating the satellites used in v2.0. The company claims that they’ll have better technical abilities than previous versions. Starship is expected to launch the v2.0 satellites into orbit.
Starlink’s exact production cost is secret. However, some sources estimate that it ranges between 200 and 500 thousand dollars each. This cost is revolutionary by the standards of aerospace. Starlink was the first satellite indeed produced on an industrial basis. Before that, spacecraft manufacturing was mainly manual work carried out by individual projects. That determined the high costs of this craft. SpaceX changed everything, proving that satellites could be mass-produced. Henry Ford used the conveyor belt to create factories in the early twentieth century.
Pricing and connection for users
Despite its global reach, Starlink is not yet available to most people on Earth. Ultimately, the authorities of each country must permit the System to be used on their territory. 29 countries approved Starlink as of April 2022. That includes mainly North and South America and Europe as well as Australia, New Zealand and Australia.
To connect with Starlink in a country that has authorized Starlink, the user will need to place an online order, pay $ 99 and wait for the approval of their application.
The initial cost for the Starlink terminal, with an annual subscription of $99, was $499. Recently, SpaceX raised the prices. The price has increased for users that have made an initial deposit of $ 549. Monthly Internet packages have increased in price from $99 to $110. SpaceX attributed the increase in price to high dollar inflation.
SpaceX announced its Starlink Premium Service for Corporate Customers in early 2022. This tariff plan offers users at least double the speed and less delay in signal transmission of satellite Internet. This service costs $ 2,500 for each terminal, with a subscription of $ 500 per month.
Starlink in Ukraine
SpaceX started supplying Starlink Terminals to Ukraine after the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine. Their number is now over 5,000. Government agencies and infrastructure are using them. Starlink is often the only way to communicate with the outside during combat. It ensures fast, reliable transmission of data.
On April 20, Mykhailo Federorov, Minister for Digital Transformation, announced that regulators in electronic communications, radio spectrum, and postal services had allowed Starlink terminals to be used by users of all types during martial law. Starlink also announced it has started preparations to open a representative in Ukraine.
Starlink’s use in the combat zone has raised questions about its vulnerability. The Russian military has tried and failed to silence the Starlink signals. A large number of satellites makes it impossible to threaten to destroy them. Given the size of this group, the only way to stop Starlink is by using nuclear weapons in orbit. That will be a declaration of open war against the entire world.
Future of the System and its Competitors
It may seem that two thousand Starlink satellites have already been launched. That is just the first impression. SpaceX intends to launch a 4 408-spacecraft group as part of its first phase. In the System’s second phase, SpaceX will create a constellation of 7,518 satellites that will be orbited at an altitude between 330 and 350 km. The satellites are designed to operate at the V-band.
SpaceX has much more ambitious plans. The company has plans for the future to double the number of satellites active to 42,000. It’s a large number. SpaceX has been able to reduce the costs of mass production and launch. That is no longer as unbelievable as a few short years ago.
Starlink is currently the main rival of OneWeb. Its characteristics, however, are far more modest. It will have 648 satellites when fully deployed. Before terminating its cooperation with Roscosmos, the company launched 428 satellites. Ironically, SpaceX agreed to assist a rival by deploying some satellites of the System (the remainder will be launched in India). The exact date of the deployment remains unknown.
The Future of Global Satellite Internet: Competitors and Challenges
Amazon’s Kuiper could theoretically be a more significant competitor than Starlink. The group will consist of 3 226 devices. Amazon signed an agreement that will last a lifetime, ordering rockets for 83 launchers from ULA, Arianespace, and Blue Origin. SpaceX has a better chance of winning because Kuiper plans to use launching systems that have not been in service yet.
The Chinese firm GalaxySpace has also developed a project. The Chinese company GalaxySpace plans to build a constellation of 12.992 satellites. Given its political reality, its commercial prospects are very questionable in the West. This System is more likely to become part of “The Great Firewall of China .”.
Starlink is not facing any real competition today. Since this is a first-ever project, the designers must make some mistakes that delay the deployment, not to mention the financial and technological risks that can overwhelm the System. Starlink could fail due to a lack of usage.
Even though the Starlink system is a success and SpaceX has been persistent, it may be viewed by the public as a standard system. It will likely look like GPS, once as impressive as global satellite internet.