SpaceX will launch its first two test global internet satellites next week. A postponement from an initial liftoff that they scheduled for Sunday.
With the Heavy’s test flight complete, SpaceX is back to business. SpaceX is stepping up development of its “Starlink” network of satellites.
The company will soon test its first satellites, Microsat 2a and 2b. The satellites will launch in orbit aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
The company hopes the first two tester satellites, will be the predecessors to a fleet of thousands of broadband satellites that SpaceX will launch over the next decade.
On Saturday, SpaceX scrapped plans to launch on Sunday, in the interest of performing “final checks’. However, they rescheduled for February 21st and the company’s big ambitions remain on track.
SpaceX will prepare for the launch at 6:17 AM Pacific time on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the booster, an older Block 3 Falcon 9 model, will discard in the ocean after its flight.
Following the company’s last commercial satellite delivery, GovSat-1, SpaceX experimented by firing the Falcon 9 engines at a high thrust right before crashing it into the water. Remarkably, the booster survived and was left floating—so SpaceX may attempt this test again after the Paz launch.
About the Internet
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there are about 14 million rural Americans, as well as 1.2 million Americans on tribal lands, who do not have access to even the slowest mobile broadband services.
So, SpaceX, through its satellite constellation is looking forward to transforming a traditionally high-cost, low-reliability service. Experts estimate that the space industry will expand rapidly over the next three decades. They anticipate that the satellite internet sector will grow at an exponential rate.
SpaceX will begin launching an initial constellation of 4,425 Ka/Ku band [a term that indicates range on the electromagnetic spectrum] low Earth orbit satellites in 2019. The system will become operational once SpaceX deploys at least 800 satellites, the FCC documents show. The two test satellites will orbit about 700 miles above the Earth, in the same range as the eventual constellation.
Starlink will offer broadband speeds comparable to fiber optic networks by essentially creating a blanket connection across the electromagnetic spectrum. The satellites would offer new direct to consumer wireless connections, rather the present system’s redistribution of signals.
Starlink would be a “real enabler for people in poorer regions of the world,” Musk has said.
Then, SpaceX wants to create an even larger constellation of over 7,500 of its satellites just 200 miles up. Thus, making high-speed internet access anywhere on the globe.
Federal Communications Commission
In a filing to the FCC, SpaceX explained that the experimental microsats will help the company prove the basic infrastructure of the small spacecraft is sound and that the electronic systems housed inside work properly.
The FCC granted the license, which highlights one significant component to the plan: The satellites will not be in a fixed position in orbit. So, SpaceX will have to constantly shift and synchronize thousands of these spacecraft as they zoom around the globe.
According to projections obtained by the Wall Street Journal, the company’s goal is to have subscribed over 40 million customers by 2025, which would amount to nearly $30 billion in total revenue.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai put out a statement last Wednesday in support of SpaceX’s internet ambitions. “I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application and moving to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed internet to rural Americans,” said Pai. “If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies.”
However, SpaceX isn’t the only company hoping to get a piece of the billion-dollar broadband market. OneWeb is currently building its campus just down the road from SpaceX at Kennedy Space Center. It’s planning to start building a constellation of 900 broadband satellites next year. The company is contracting Soyuz, Blue Origin’s New Glenn, and Virgin Galactic LauncherOne to carry batches of its spacecraft to orbit, none of which will be prototypes. Boeing is reportedly also entering the space internet market.
Thumbnail image: SpaceX Heavy Launch. Credit: SpaceX