Since 2019, Elon Musk and SpaceX have led the charge to create high broadband satellite internet services. As of May 2023, the Starlink constellation consisted of over 4,000 satellites operating in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and roughly 1.5 million subscribers worldwide. Several competitors began launching constellations years before Starlink began, and several companies have emerged since. This includes HughesNet, OneWeb, and Amazon’s Kuiper Systems. But Starlink’s latest challenger could be its most fearsome yet: a company in China backed by the Beijing government!
On Sunday, July 9th, a prototype internet satellite was launched aboard a Long March 2C carrier rocket from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia. The satellite has since entered a predetermined orbit, where it will conduct several tests to validate the broadband satellite technology. The long-term aim of the project is to create a constellation of 13,000 satellites code-named “Guo Wang,” – which loosely translates to “state network” in Mandarin – reflecting Beijing’s vision for a state-run share of the satellite internet market.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to an outpouring of support and material aid from the international community. For his part, Elon Musk obliged Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov‘s request for assistance by sending free Starlink terminals to Ukraine. For some besieged communities, like the city of Mariupol, this service constitutes the only means of getting up-to-date information, communicating with family members, or sharing their stories from the front lines of the war.
Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister and its Minister of Digital Transformation, thanked Musk on Twitter for the devices. However, there is also the possibility that as the fighting continues, Starlink transmissions could become beacons for Russian airstrikes. John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher with The Citizen Lab (University of Toronto), pointed out this potential danger via Twitter and even recommended strategies for how this can be avoided.
According to the latest numbers from the ESA’s Space Debris Office (SDO), there are roughly 6,900 artificial satellites in orbit. The situation is going to become exponentially crowded in the coming years, thanks to the many telecommunications, internet, and small satellites that are expected to be launched. This creates all kinds of worries for collision risks and space debris, not to mention environmental concerns.
For this reason, engineers, designers, and satellite manufacturers are looking for ways to redesign their satellites. Enter Max Justice, a cybersecurity expert, former Marine, and “Cyber Farmer” who spent many years working in the space industry. Currently, he is working towards a new type of satellite that is made out of mycelium fibers. This tough, heat-resistant, and environmentally friendly material could trigger a revolution in the booming satellite industry.
In May of 2019, SpaceX began launching its Starlink constellation with the launch of its first 60 satellites. To date, the company has launched over 800 satellites and (as of this summer) is producing them at a rate of about 120 a month. By late 2021 or 2022, Elon Musk hopes to have a constellation of 1,440 satellites providing near-global service and perhaps as many as 42,000 providing internet to the entire planet before the decade is out.
As of November 2020, SpaceX has invited participants to take part in a public beta test called “Better Than Nothing.” The service, aptly named, is providing users with a modest rate of between 50 to 150 megabits per second, a far cry from the gigabit download speeds at low latency they hope to offer. But perhaps more interesting is the small item in the terms of service, where participants must acknowledge that Mars is a “free planet.”
SpaceX has drawn plenty of praise and criticism with the creation of Starlink, a constellation that will one-day provide broadband internet access to the entire world. To date, the company has launched over 800 satellites and (as of this summer) is producing them at a rate of about 120 a month. There are even plans to have a constellation of 42,000 satellites in orbit before the decade is out.
However, there have been some problems along the way as well. Aside from the usual concerns about light pollution and Radio Frequency Interference (RFI), there is also the rate of failure these satellites have experienced. Specifically, about 3% of its satellites have proven to be unresponsive and are no longer maneuvering in orbit – which could prove hazardous to other satellites and spacecraft in orbit.
In May of 2019, SpaceX launched the first batch of satellites that will make up its Starlink constellation, thus delivering on Musk’s promise to provide broadband internet access to the whole world. Since then, the company has conducted several launches of upgraded satellites with the intent of creating a constellation of 1,584 by 2024 and 2,200 by 2027.
According to the latest statements made by Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s President and Chief Operations Officer (COO), the company is considering spinning off Starlink and making it a publicly-traded company in the coming years. The announcement was made on Thursday, Feb. 6th, at a private investor event hosted by JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Miami.
Back in April 2019 Amazon signaled its intention to get into the internet satellite business. Following in the footsteps of SpaceX and their Starlink satellite system, Amazon intends to launch thousands of internet satellites in the coming years. Now that they’ve filed their application with the FCC, we have more details of their plan.
Back in May 23rd, 2019, SpaceX launched the first batch of its Starlink constellation, a fleet of satellites that will fulfill Elon Musk’s promise to provide broadband satellite-internet access to the entire planet. The deployment of these sixty satellites was the first in a series of six planned launches that would see around 720 satellites orbiting at an operational altitude of 550 km (340 mi).
Over the course of the past month, SpaceX announced that all sixty of the satellites were responsive, but recently indicated that contact had been lost with three of them. According to a statement issued by a company spokesperson on June 28th, these three satellites pose no danger as they will deorbit “passively” and burn up in the atmosphere.
Elon Musk has made a lot of crazy promises and proposals over the years, which inevitably leads people to pester him about deadlines. Whether it’s reusable rockets, affordable electric cars, missions to Mars, intercontinental flights, or anything having to do with his many other ventures, the question inevitably is “when can we expect it?”
That question has certainly come up in relation to his promise to launch a constellation of broadband satellites that would help provide high-speed internet access to the entire world. In response, Musk recently announced that SpaceX will launch the first batch of Starlink satellites in May 2019, and will continue with launches for the next five years.
The 15,000 pound satellite will also delight American home and business subscribers users of HughesNet® – who should soon see dramatic improvements in speed and capability promised by satellite builder Space Systems Loral (SSL).
With the fiery blastoff of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, EchoStar XIX – the world’s highest capacity broadband satellite – roared to space off Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl., at 2:13 p.m. EST on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016.
“EchoStar XIX will dramatically increase capacity for HughesNet® high-speed satellite Internet service to homes and businesses in North America,” according to ULA.
“EchoStar XIX will be the world’s highest capacity broadband satellite in orbit.”
Also known as Jupiter 2, it will deliver more speed, more data and more advanced features to consumers and small businesses from coast to coast, says EchoStar.
Liftoff on the sunny Florida afternoon was delayed some 45 minutes to deal with a technical anomaly that cropped up during the final moments of the countdown with launch originally slated for 1:27 p.m. EST.
Incoming bad weather threatened to delay the blastoff but held off until dark clouds and rains showers hit the Cape about half an hour after the eventual launch at 2:13 p.m.
EchoStar 19 is based on the powerful SSL 1300 platform as a multi-spot beam Ka-band satellite.
It is upgraded from the prior series version.
“Building from their experience on the highly successful EchoStar XVII broadband satellite, SSL and Hughes collaboratively engineered the specific design details of this payload for optimum performance.”
EchoStar 19 was delivered to a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). It will be stationed at 97.1 degrees West longitude.
EchoStar 19 was ULA’s final mission of 2016, ending another year of 100% success rates stretching back to the company’s founding back in 2006, as a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
This is ULA’s 12th and last launch in 2016 and the 115th successful launch since December 2006.
“ULA is honored to have been entrusted with the launch of the EchoStar XIX satellite,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Human and Commercial Systems, in a statement.
“We truly believe that our success is only made possible by the phenomenal teamwork of our employees, customers and industry partners.”
The 194-foot-tall commercial Atlas V booster launched in the 431 rocket configuration with approximately 2 million pounds of first stage thrust. This is the 3rd launch of the 431 configuration – all delivered commercial communications satellites to orbit.
Three solid rocket motors are attached to the Atlas booster to augment the first stage powered by the dual nozzle RD AMROSS RD-180 engine.
The satellite is housed inside a 4-meter diameter extra extended payload fairing (XEPF). The Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C engine.
“As we celebrate 10 years, ULA continues to be the nation’s premier launch provider because of our unmatched reliability and mission success,” Wentz elaborated.
“The Atlas V continues to provide the optimum performance to precisely deliver a range of missions. As we move into our second decade, we will maintain our ongoing focus on mission success, one launch at a time even as we transform the space industry, making space more accessible, affordable and commercialized.”
“Congratulations to ULA and the entire integrated team who ensured the success of our last launch capping off what has been a very busy year,” said Col. Walt Jackim, 45th Space Wing vice commander and mission Launch Decision Authority.
“This mission once again clearly demonstrates the successful collaboration we have with our mission partners as we continue to shape the future of America’s space operations and showcase why the 45th Space Wing is the ‘World’s Premiere Gateway to Space.'”
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.