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Ten SpaceX Starlink Updates

Starlink availability map. (Source)

Starlink now has nearly 500,000 users and is available in 32 countries and nine languages. It is either available, wait-listed, or coming soon in every nation except Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela.

There are now 15,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine with service throughout the nation through connections to ground stations in Poland, Lithuania, and Turkey and they have made a significant contribution in the war with Russia. For better or worse, they have demonstrated the value of low-Earth orbit satellites in combat.

A Chinese research paper called for the development of systems to track, monitor, and disable Starlink satellites. Quotes include “The country needs to be able to disable or destroy SpaceX’s Starlink satellites if they threaten national security” and “A combination of soft and hard kill methods should be adopted to make some Starlink satellites lose their functions and destroy the constellation’s operating system.” The paper in Chinese is here and an English translation is here.

SpaceX has begun launching version 1.5 satellites with optical terminals, and Elon Musk says they will be operational by the end of the year. They are about to run a test using laser links to provide connectivity in Polar regions (above 53 degrees latitude) where there are no ground stations. It will take some time for them to connect all the satellites in the constellation in an orthogonal mesh, but this simulation predicts a ~2x latency improvement over long links when the mesh is complete.

Astronomers worry about reflections from larger Version 2 satellites. (source)

The version 1.5 satellites do not have visors that reduce reflection which interferes with astronomical observation because they were incompatible with the laser terminals. Principal engineer David Goldstein says they’re working on technology that will make version 2 satellites ten times dimmer than Vantablack paint.

SpaceX tested Starlink roaming in the US and later in Ukraine and they have now rolled out two new commercial services, Starlink for RVs, a low-priority service that can be paused, and Residential Starlink + Portability which provides priority service at your registered residence, but low-priority service when away. Elon Musk reported that they had 30,000 Starlink-for-RV orders within three weeks of its availability.

Service is not yet offered for moving vehicles, but it has worked well in the tests mentioned above and in Ukraine. Since the technology works, they may be delaying availability until they have a capacity allocation/pricing scheme, or they might be working on a new terminal. How long will it be before they have a terminal for Tesla and other cars and trucks? (They will eventually be competing with Geely for automobile connectivity).

Starlink’s new business service is intended for locations with up to twenty users. It includes a $2,500 terminal with a high-gain antenna and promises download speeds of 150-500 Mbps and latency of 20-40ms. It includes 24/7, prioritized support and a publicly routable IPv4 address but does not offer on-site support or a guaranteed service-level agreement.

Starlink began by serving the consumer market, but they have begun selling to air and ship lines. Starlink has contracted to offer service on JSX and Hawaiian Airlines and has applied to serve Royal Caribbean cruise ships. The airlines will use a new high-gain antenna that can deliver 500 Mbps down and40-50 up with 400w peak power consumption. I’ll be curious to see what sort of terminal they will have for cruise ships with thousands of passengers but little nearby congestion when at sea.

SpaceX’s “duck” maneuver (right) minimizing area in potential collision direction (out of page) compared with worst-case orientation (left). (Source)

SpaceX published a detailed description of its approach to space sustainability and safety in a February 22 post on their Starlink Updates blog. The post reports that Starlink satellites made 3,300 autonomous maneuvers to avoid collision during the second half of 2021 and describes the policies and technology Starlink uses to avoid collisions, including “ducking”—retracting the solar panel and orienting their attitude to have the smallest possible cross-section in the direction of conjunction. Unfortunately, SpaceX cannot solve the space debris problem unilaterally and all debris objects cannot be tracked from Earth, though improved tracking from satellites might help and at least one company, Privateer, is exploring that possibility.

(Click here for a Starship update).

By Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University

He has been on the faculties of the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Southern California, and worked for IBM and the System Development Corporation. Larry maintains a blog on Internet applications and implications at cis471.blogspot.com and follows Cuban Internet development at laredcubana.blogspot.com.

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