If you think space travel is cool, just wait until you see what SpaceX has planned next!
The company’s founder and CEO, Elon Musk, recently announced that SpaceX plans to create an entirely new satellite launcher in order to boost the next generation of satellites into space at unprecedented speed. Although satellites have been launched since the 1960s, Musk says he wants to make this process more affordable and efficient than ever before, promising that his satellites will launch faster and cheaper than any satellite built before within two years.
What to know about the rocket
SpaceX is planning to launch their new satellite launcher Starlink, which will change space launches forever. The rocket will be able to take more weight than other rockets of its type and be able to launch satellites into higher orbits. Starlink is set to replace older SpaceX oil rigs and even deliver broadband internet service across North America. This new space revolution will offer us an opportunity for incredible technology and a better future. Is Starlink faster than fibre? To find out, let’s look at some of these astonishing facts about SpaceX’s new Falcon 9 rocket:
- Is Starlink faster than fibre? Yes, Starlink can be up to eight times faster than Fiber Optic Cable (Fiber).
- How many people work for SpaceX? SpaceX employs more than 6,000 employees.
- What is SpaceX’s purpose? SpaceX’s purpose is to reduce space transportation costs and enable colonization of Mars.
- Is SpaceX private or public? SpaceX is a private company.
- What will Starlink be used for? Starlink will be used to deliver broadband internet service across North America. It will also replace older SpaceX oil rigs that are no longer in use.
How much will it cost?
SpaceX says that its service will launch satellites into space for $5 million a pop. In addition, they’ll be launching multiple rockets in 2022 to ensure that all of those satellites can reach orbit. So while $5 million may seem like a high price tag on its face, it could actually be a huge value when you consider how much it would cost to get a satellite launched through other means. Today, for example, it costs about $10 million to get an individual satellite sent into space using one of SpaceX’s competitors. And getting a rocket approved can take years. What’s more, there are so many regulatory hoops to jump through in order to conduct any sort of aerospace project that regulatory delays could add months or even years to your timeline.
Although $5 million per satellite may seem like a lot of money, when you compare it to other spaceflight costs it becomes clear that SpaceX’s new launcher could actually be a great value. Today, for example, another major rocket company charges about $10 million to send an individual satellite into orbit. SpaceX plans to launch many rockets in order to get all its Starlink satellites up there, which will make getting them all in space a whole lot easier and more cost-effective. Regulatory hurdles can also add months or even years onto your timeline if you want to launch a satellite today using one of SpaceX’s competitors, so adding those delays into your equation means that their service truly stands out as being far cheaper than what other companies offer today.
In addition to being more cost-effective than SpaceX’s competitors, their new service could also be much more efficient. Compared to its competitors, SpaceX has far fewer regulatory hurdles it needs to jump through in order to conduct aerospace operations. Most of SpaceX’s work is conducted under launch licenses issued by the Federal Aviation Administration and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) agreements with other governments. And if you’ve ever tried working with these agencies before you know that they can take years to approve any sort of project.
The main reason SpaceX is launching so many rockets in 2022 is to ensure that all their Starlink satellites get into orbit. If you’ve ever tried launching a satellite before, you know that even a slight delay can spell disaster for an entire mission. For example, back in 2009, NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory was supposed to launch on top of a Taurus XL rocket and head into orbit. But just seconds after liftoff something went wrong, and it crashed back down onto Earth at 300 miles per hour (500 km/h). As luck would have it, NASA wasn’t going to let anything stand in its way of getting a carbon-tracking satellite into space, so it immediately issued an order for another launch.
When will this launch happen?
SpaceX originally planned to launch its fleet of 4,425 satellites—the first of which was delivered to orbit in February 2018—in phases, with a goal of launching 1,600 of them by 2024. But on June 19th, Elon Musk announced that SpaceX will be launching all 4,425 satellites at once (using a series of different rocket launches). In other words, Musk says that within two years there will be a constellation of over 7,000 satellites operating around Earth. That is quite a lot! As mentioned earlier there are only 2200 active satellites orbiting today. So within two years, SpaceX expects to have more than double what currently exists! That would truly be remarkable… no wonder Time magazine named Musk their Person Of The Year for 2017.
But there are also considerable legal and regulatory hurdles to overcome before Musk can make that vision a reality. He first needs approval from every country involved in Starlink to launch his satellites, which will also require permits from local agencies. In a tweet, Musk said he just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop, so it’s possible similar approvals could come through for SpaceX’s satellite plans as well. And Musk said in another tweet that he plans on launching two of his own personal prototype satellites later this year, once all of SpaceX’s testing is complete. But he emphasized that getting government approval is not a small hurdle and should be taken seriously. In other words, we should expect more delays.
In January, SpaceX filed a petition with United States regulators to launch up to 4,425 satellites into orbit. The network would consist of three layers. The lowest layer, at 1,150 miles in altitude above Earth’s surface, would include 782 satellites operating within 12 miles of one another. The medium layer—1,250 miles high—would consist of 1,146 satellites orbiting within 200 miles of one another. And the uppermost layer would involve 249 gateway Earth stations capable of beaming the internet directly down to users on Earth with an electric-powered Internet LEO satellite linking them together.
SpaceX plans to eventually launch nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit above Earth. Musk first mentioned Starlink in 2015 and released an official document about it in 2016. The company started a small pilot project in February 2018 using two test satellites, named Tintin-A and Tintin-B. These prototypes will help SpaceX engineers further calibrate their designs and ensure everything works correctly before launching all 4,425 satellites at once. What happens next? It’s impossible to say exactly how long it will take SpaceX to complete its project—or even if they’ll be able to do so at all—but it certainly has plenty of sceptics doubting whether such a massive undertaking can succeed.
The satellites are expected to be ready in 2022, providing customers with a direct link between space and Earth. The SpaceX city, as it’s been dubbed by some, could be coming sooner than that. Starlink will launch a constellation of tiny satellites (much smaller than today’s geosynchronous satellites) into low-Earth orbit. These spacecraft will form an orbiting network to beam high-speed internet to Earth — without needing any kind of ground infrastructure or cellular towers. Think beam rather than dial-up or fibre-optic connections. Essentially, these little boxes will help us share information and connect with anyone around the world using fast and stable internet connections, available on earth no matter where you are — whether you’re exploring Antarctica or fighting for wifi on your camping trip to Yosemite.
SpaceX’s announcement comes at a time when we need to extend our reach further into space than ever before. The next step for human exploration of our solar system involves travelling to distant destinations, such as Mars and beyond. To get there, we’ll need faster internet connections than what can be achieved with current satellite internet technologies. SpaceX’s planned network would offer a solution by boosting global connection speeds by as much as 10-20 times and bringing low-cost high-speed internet access to remote locations across Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. It will also likely play an important role in industries like entertainment and media, banking security and healthcare — all sectors where we have a growing demand for connected networks. Bottom line?
Even though we’re excited about SpaceX’s planned launch in 2022, we won’t see real results for years to come. These satellite networks take time to deploy and test, and even more, a time before they can be used by customers. But if SpaceX pulls it off, Starlink will represent a new space revolution — one that brings faster and more reliable internet access closer than ever before. And while high-speed internet is just what we need in our connected world, a network of these satellites could also solve many problems facing humanity as well as open up entirely new opportunities in fields like communication and entertainment. The future has never looked brighter!
It remains to be seen if SpaceX will really follow through with their Starlink project. But regardless of whether or not it gets off the ground, its announcement marks an important moment in time. It shows that despite many hurdles and tough challenges, we’re edging closer to building a truly global and interconnected internet network — one that extends beyond our planet’s atmosphere and into space itself. Only then can we fully leverage technology to spread knowledge, lift more people out of poverty and make progress in fields like healthcare and education.
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