Starlink is a high-speed, low latency broadband internet service offered by SpaceX, an American aerospace manufacturing and space transportation company founded by Elon Musk. Starlink aims to offer fast-speed internet access between 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps and low latency of around 20 ms to 40 ms. The system involves a satellite internet constellation in low-Earth orbit, capable of offering low-latency and high-bandwidth internet service. The constellation consists of thousands of small artificial satellites that work in tandem with various ground transceivers to deliver faster speed Internet service worldwide.
Starlink: Latest Happenings
- SpaceX’s satellite development facility in Redmond, Washington, houses Starlink’s research, development, manufacturing, and orbit control. As of 7th April 2021, SpaceX has launched about 1300 Starlink satellites in orbit, aiming to provide near-global service by late 2021 or 2022.
- Currently, Starlink provides a private beta service in the Northern United States and a public beta that began October 2020 at high latitudes between 44 degrees & 52 degrees north.
- SpaceX is currently using its Falcon series of rockets & satellite launch vehicles to launch 60 satellites at every launch. The United States Federal Communications Commission filing for approval of spectrum for 30000 additional satellites as a supplement for the 12000 satellites already approved.
Aiming to revolutionize the Internet & telecommunications industry, Starlink seeks to make the Internet available to everyone irrespective of their location and position on the planet.
Let’s take a closer look at the technologies involved in this humongous endeavor, how the engineers at SpaceX & Starlink are achieving this behemoth of a task and what analysts say about the service’s prospective future.
The Tech Behind Starlink
The Starlink Internet service uses a constellation of low orbit satellites as the go-between allowing information from any corner of the globe to reach any other corner.
SpaceX’s Starlink is a network of orbiting satellites working with ground transceiver antennas, which transfer information amongst the different service constituents using the following frequency spectrums:
- Transmission from satellites to user terminals occur at 10.7 GHz – 12.7 GHz and 37.5- 42.5 GHz
- Satellite to Gateway transmissions happen at 17.8-18.6 GHz, 18.8-19.3 GHz and 37.5-42.5 GHz
- Transmissions from terminals to satellites are to be carried out in the 14.0 – 14.5 GHz, 47.2 – 50.2 GHz, and 50.4 – 51.34 GHz
- Transmissions from Gateways to Satellites occur at 27.5-29.1 GHz, 29.5 – 30.0 GHz, 47.2 – 50.2 GHz and 50.4-51.4 GHz
- Tracking, telemetry and control (downlink): 12.15 – 12.25 GHz and 18.55 – 18.60 GHz and 37.5 – 37.75 GHz
- Tracking, telemetry and control ( uplink): 13.85 – 14.00 GHz and 47.2 – 46.45 GHz
The satellite constellation is orbiting Earth at altitudes between 340 km and 1300 km. The current communication and transmission media are the Ku, Ka and V spectrums. Later-generation will utilize laser communication will be used for information transfer.
- V and Ku bands are to be used by Network users & clients, while the V&Ka bands will be used for operational & service delivery purposes such as tracking, telemetry & control. 7518 satellites in very low Earth’s orbit will use V-band for all purposes, including inter-satellite communications.
- Satellites will directly communicate with both user terminals and the gateways located near significant Internet nodes or Tier 1 networks ( the Internet backbone). SpaceX has been authorized to operate 6 Ku gateways in different places all over the US and will be used to deliver broadband data amongst the first generation satellites and terrestrial Internet exchange points.
There are two initial ground stations for telemetry, tracking & control, one on the United State’s east & west coast.
Actual Footage Of Starlink Satellite Deployment From Falcon 9 Delivery Vehicle (Source: www.spacenews.com)
- In terms of service & connection parameters, Starlink offers gigabit speeds with an extremely low latency of about 20-50 ms. The system aims to reduce latencies further to below 10 ms. For example, Starlink Internet Service provided speeds of up to 610 Mbps to a military aeroplane in flight.
SpaceX’s production facility at Redmond, Washington, is the world’s sole manufacturing facility for Starlink satellites. Currently, the facility has been churning out seven satellites as a day.
- Electric propulsion is being utilized for propelling & manoeuvring satellites, and ion thrusters help keep the satellites in proper position & move as per instructions.
- Starlink satellites are the world’s first operational satellites equipped with ion engines running on krypton gas. Less efficient than xenon, krypton is nevertheless much cheaper than its other ion propulsion counterpart, xenon. The machines have a specific impulse of around 1500 seconds and will be used to move the satellites into orbit.
Ion Propulsion (Source: www.nasa.com)
- Ion engines are frame fixed, so their thrusts can not be vectored. Momentum wheels are used to control satellite attitude.
- Satellites can be tracked by GPS and SpaceX’s own star tracker system.This helps the satellites to avoid debris and other collisions.
- The satellites are deployed using SpaceX’s own Falcon 9 delivery systems. They are deployed at a low altitude of 280 to 290 km. in an elliptical orbit. The delivery vehicle rotates slowly, and the satellites are released & start spreading out by the moment of inertia generated.
- Starlink satellites weigh around 250 kilograms, flat in design with single folding solar panels made of standardized cells.
- Currently, four phased-array antennas and two parabolic antennas to communicate with user terminals and gateways. Laser interlinks will be used for data transmission in the future.
- Each satellite possesses one terabit of capacity, enabling them to offer 16 to 50 Gbps connectivity speeds.
The User Terminals
Starlink’s user terminals will comprise a phased-array antenna that’s signal can be steered electronically. They can switch between satellites quickly and effectively and can work smoothly even while moving. The terminals are equipped with motors that automatically realign for optimal performance.
Starlink & The Future
The completion of the Starlink Constellation is estimated to cost around USD 10 billion and above. Google and Fidelity have invested massively in SpaceX, with the United States Air Force also making significant contributions. The CEO of SpaceX & Starlink, Elon Musk, states enough capital to build a constellation of several hundred functional satellites.
SpaceX aims to revolutionize global internet access, offering affordable Internet access to every corner of the world. While expert analysts harbor some apprehensions about low-Earth orbit satellite constellations regarding astronomy & unstable orbits, the substantial benefits outweigh the negative impacts.
With low latency, high-speed Internet access, easy set-up and global connectivity, the Starlink Internet Service is all set to revolutionize the World Wide Web and information technology in the future.
Author-Bio: Karen Hamada is a telemetry engineer with one of the world’s biggest tech start-ups. She is an avid tech enthusiast and helps students with their tech assignments & projects at MyAssignmenthelp.com, the USA’s most prominent tech, Paper writing help & assignment writing service.