A view of SpaceX’s first 60 Starlink satellites in orbit, still in stacked configuration, with the Earth as a brilliant blue backdrop on May 23, 2019.
But Starlink won’t be truly operational until several hundred more satellites go up.
SpaceX’s nascent internet-satellite constellation is already providing some boutique service, according to Elon Musk.
Late last night (Oct. 21), SpaceX’s billionaire founder and CEO said via Twitter that he was attempting to post something via Starlink, the orbiting network that the company began assembling this year. And 2 minutes later, he tweeted the result: “Whoa, it worked!!”
That’s quite something, considering that Starlink is just a shell of its envisioned future self. SpaceX has approval to launch about 12,000 Starlink satellites and recently applied for permission to loft up to 30,000 more. But the company has launched just 60 of the craft to date, all of which rode to orbit this past May aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.
A number of additional such launches will be required before Starlink can beam data for the rest of us. SpaceX needs about 400 Starlink craft to provide “minor” coverage and 800 for “moderate” coverage, Musk said earlier this year.
SpaceX isn’t the only company with internet-satellite plans. Amazon aims to launch more than 3,000 broadband craft of its own, and OneWeb launched the first six satellites of a 650-strong constellation earlier this year.
These networks will fundamentally change the Earth-orbiting population. There are just 2,000 or so operational satellites zipping around our planet at the moment, and fewer than 9,000 have been launched since the dawn of the space age in 1957.
Some astronomers have voiced concerns that the coming broadband satellites will affect their observations of cosmic objects. And other space stakeholders have stressed that we need to think hard about ways to mitigate the potential space-junk threat posed by these megaconstellations, and the many small satellites going up now, thanks to a dramatic drop in the cost of access to space.