Starlink Services - SpaceX
SpaceX aims to provide access to high-speed internet in rural areas with Starlink, which costs $99 a month plus $499 for the equipment needed to connect to the network. Founded and created by SpaceX, Starlink Services will offer the world’s first high-speed, low-latency satellite internet service, coordinating the world’s largest fleet of operating satellites to deliver consistent service to the world’s most disconnected areas, including those in the United States.
Musk said on 29 June 2021 that his Starlink venture was growing quickly as he forecast total investment costs in the satellite internet business at between $20bn and $30bn. Without disclosing details, he also said Starlink has “two quite significant partnerships with major country telcos” that could help the SpaceX division plug the gaps in fifth-generation mobile and cellular networks. Musk forecast that total customer numbers would reach half a million over the next 12 months, from 69,000 now. The rapid spread of wireless and terrestrial broadband, along with high prices, were significant factors in killing previous Low-Earth-Orbit satellite ventures. Starlink is selling terminals for half price, Musk said, adding that he expects to bring down terminal costs from over $1,000 to $300-500 in the next 12 months. SpaceX has been laying the groundwork to potentially serve up to 5 million subscribers in the US. SpaceX has received more than 500,000 orders for Starlink broadband service, the company said 04 May 2021. "'To date, over half a million people have placed an order or put down a deposit for Starlink,' SpaceX operations engineer Siva Bharadvaj said during the launch webcast of its 26th Starlink mission," CNBC reported. SpaceX opened preorders for Starlink satellite service in February and is serving at least 10,000 users in its beta in the US and overseas combined. The preorders required a $99 deposit for service that would be available in the second half of 2021. "Only limitation is high density of users in urban areas," Musk stated. "Most likely, all of the initial 500k will receive service. More of a challenge when we get into the several million user range." The total cost for each Starlink user is $499 for hardware, $50 for shipping and handling, and $99 for monthly service, plus tax.
Since the beginning of 2020, SpaceX successively released Starlink's user terminals and routers. While its commercial applications are advancing, Starlink quickly became deeply tied up with the US military. In May 2020, SpaceX and the US Army signed an agreement under which the former will use Starlink to transmit data between various military networks in three years. As early as 2018, with only two test satellites, Starlink's signal transmission rate to a military transport aircraft reached 610 megabits per second, which was enough to download a movie in one minute. SpaceX has received many US military orders in the rocket launch market, and its first investment outside of Musk's personal capital injection came from the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). By means of combining the military with commerical users, Starlink can meet the military needs of the United States. Satellite Internet is more than simply providing network services for areas that cannot be covered by ground networks. There are many military and national security uses behind it.
SpaceX is fighting for the U.S. Rural Digital Development Opportunity Fund. The fund plans to allocate US$20.4 billion in ten years to provide network services to 14.5 million people in the United States. Musk has repeatedly stated that Starlink’s target customers are different from traditional telecom operators and will not pose a threat to them.
SpaceX is the world’s first high-speed, low-latency satellite internet provider, coordinating the largest fleet of operating satellites to deliver consistent service to the most disconnected areas. The Starlink network has the demonstrated capability to meet Starlink Services public interest obligations to provide Above Baseline, Low-Latency performance broadband to the unserved areas.
The Commission authorized SpaceX in 2018 to deploy and operate a revolutionary constellation of more than 4,400 satellites in low Earth orbit (“LEO”). The Commission based its decision to authorize SpaceX on its ability “to bring high-speed, reliable, and affordable broadband service to consumers in the United States and around the world, including areas underserved or currently unserved by existing networks.”
With Starlink, SpaceX brought to bear its successful history of design innovation, manufacturing capability, and operationalizing complex space and ground systems. In just two years following its authorization, SpaceX established a robust, U.S.-based manufacturing capability for Starlink satellites, customer premises equipment (user terminals or “CPE”) and ground station antennas. The result is the creation of a comprehensive ground network that currently communicates with over 1,000 Starlink satellites in orbit, enabling SpaceX to commence beta service with thousands of users located across multiple states. Starlink’s technical maturity and inherent capacity to support high-throughput, low-latency broadband service to unserved or underserved communities in even the most remote and rural areas of the United States promises to materially contribute to the Commission’s goal of closing the digital divide.
Starlink’s performance is not theoretical or experimental. Over 10,000 users in the United States and abroad were using the service by the end of 2020. While its performance is rapidly accelerating in real time as part of its public beta program, the Starlink network had successfully demonstrated it can surpass the Commission’s “Above Baseline” and “Low Latency” performance tiers, including:
- Meeting and exceeding 100/20 megabits per second (“Mbps”) throughput to individual users.
- Demonstrating performance of 95% of network round-trip latency measurements at or below 31 milliseconds.
- Successfully testing standalone voice service over the Starlink network.
Starlink continued to improve as SpaceX deployed additional infrastructure and capability, averaging two Starlink launches per month, to add significant on-orbit capacity alongside activation of additional gateways to improve performance and expand service coverage areas across the country.
SpaceX maintains a rapid launch cadence by reusing the first stages of the Falcon 9, which is designed to be flown at least 10 times and can be refurbished for re-flight in less than two months. By designing satellites to be stacked and utilizing an innovative deployment approach, SpaceX is able to launch 60 Starlink satellites at a time, with launch approximately every two weeks. Thus, SpaceX can cost-effectively launch the Starlink constellation. This launch cadence has resulted in the most visible milestone of SpaceX’s network maturity: more than 1,000 satellites in orbit, surpassing the size necessary to provide uninterrupted coverage to much of the United States.
Starlink delivers service to users by coordinating the delivery of thousands of radiofrequency (“RF”) beams across the satellite fleet to dynamically allocate connections between the satellites in space and users on the ground. Operating satellites 65 times closer to the earth than geostationary satellites has allowed the first generation of SpaceX’s satellites to generate these ultra-small spot size beams, which deliver higher speed and lower latency. The satellite constellation will communicate with an equally extensive ground network. SpaceX has already deployed an initial ground network consisting of dozens of gateways connected to fiber across the country. The licensed and planned gateways will be strategically located to optimize service to consumers anywhere in the United States.
Each satellite currently has two Ka- band parabolic antennas that form connections back to the internet backbone. These antennas connect to ground station sites deployed across the country that directly connect via fiber to SpaceX’s Points of Presence. SpaceX also provides customers with their own phased-array terminal to be deployed at their service location to connect directly to the satellite’s Ku- band RF beam assigned to the user’s service area. Because the Starlink satellites are constantly moving, the network plans these connections on 15 second intervals, continuously re-generating and publishing a schedule of connections to the satellite fleet and handing off connections between satellites.
Critically, the network can leverage these hand-offs to optimize its ability to meet customer needs, delivering high-speed (>100Mbps) and low-latency (< 30 ms), even when working around spectrum sharing constraints from other satellite operators. To accomplish these frequent hand-offs, Starlink uses advanced phased-array technology for both the satellite and the customer Starlink kit, which allows for nearly instantaneous hand-offs between different satellites with no mechanical transitions. Phased-array technologies encourage efficient spectrum sharing by allowing both the satellite and user antennas to adjust the direction where they steer their RF beams purely by adjusting the signal of individual antenna elements that make up the combined phased-array.
The consensus of the industry is that the Starlink system is not a competitor to the terrestrial communication system, but a useful supplement. The users facing it are people who currently do not have any broadband access means. However, the user capacity of the Starlink system is still uncertain.
At present, the single-satellite user-side link rate planned by the Starlink system can reach 17~23Gbps. According to the average rate of 20Gbps, it is estimated that 41927 satellites can provide a total system capacity of 838.50Tbps. Compared with the terrestrial mobile communication system, what is the capacity of the Starlink system?
Take Huawei's 5G base station BBU5900 product as an example. In SA mode single-cell TDDSub-6G frequency, with a 100MHz bandwidth 64T/64R antenna configuration, the maximum downlink rate is 5.655Gbps. Of course, the ground mobile communication network can configure multiple 100MHz channels in a cell to achieve a higher maximum downlink rate. In other words, the capacity of a Starlink satellite is equivalent to a 5G cell with a relatively large capacity. For comparison, the United States has about 200,000 4G base stations in total, and the actual maximum downlink rate of each base station is about one-tenth that of 5G base stations. In this way, the system capacity provided by more than 40,000 satellites of Starlink is more than twice the capacity of the 4G network system in the United States? But the reality is not so good. The total capacity of the Starlink system is limited by many factors.
When a satellite flies on a fixed orbit, it will fly over areas where users are densely populated, and it will inevitably fly over areas where a large number of users are sparse, such as the ocean. By designing satellite orbits, more satellite leaps can be arranged for user-intensive areas, but the problem of satellite capacity being wasted in user-sparse areas cannot be solved. Therefore, how much capacity is wasted in the entire Starlink system requires detailed investigation of user distribution and simulation to get the answer.
The Starlink system is calculated based on 60 satellites per launch, and all 41927 satellites require nearly 700 launches. SpaceX claims that the manufacturing cost of each satellite in the early stage is about 1 million US dollars, and the cost will be greatly reduced after mass production. The launch cost of the new Falcon 9 rocket is about 60 million U.S. dollars. If it is reused, the launch cost can also be greatly reduced. Therefore, according to the most optimistic estimate, the total construction cost of the entire Starlink system will be on the order of US$70 or 80 billion.
Due to the existence of thin air in the low earth orbit where the Starlink satellite is located, the satellite will encounter a certain amount of air resistance during flight and needs to consume energy to maintain the orbital altitude. Therefore, the average lifespan of low-orbiting satellites is not high, usually around 5 years. As the Starlink satellite uses a large area of ??solar panels and plasma engines, according to a report submitted to the FCC by SpaceX, its effective life span can reach 5 to 7 years. According to the longest estimate of 7 years, 41,927 satellites will be updated every 7 years, about 6,000 new satellites need to be launched every year, and 100 rocket launches are required. This cost also needs about 10 billion US dollars.
Starlink system has already started user testing. The monthly usage fee is US$99, and the user ground terminal equipment price is US$499. There have been many disassembly analyses of Starlink user terminal antennas on the Internet. The antenna uses a phased array system and can use beamforming to adjust its direction and track satellites. Overseas media estimated from the bill of materials (BOM) for dismantling the antenna that the cost of the antenna was approximately US$2,500, and the price to be sold to customers was only US$499, which means that SpaceX has undertaken nearly US$2,000 in losses, or subsidies.
The Starlink system actually has a huge domestic user demand. Contrary to what many people imagine, there are a large number of people in the United States that cannot be covered by broadband networks, especially in remote areas. This is because American telecom operators are all privately-owned and prioritize economic benefits. In areas where the cost of laying optical fibers or building wireless communication base stations is too high, and the expected revenue cannot be recovered, they have no incentive to cover. The Federal Communications Commission FCC estimated at the beginning of 2020 that approximately 21.3 million people in the United States live in areas without any broadband access. However, the survey results of BroadBandNow, a US broadband market research company, show that the population of the US without any way to access broadband Internet is as high as 42 million.
According to the FTTH coverage statistics submitted by the market research company IDATE to the European Parliament, in March 2019, only 50.3% of households in Latvia, which ranked the highest, had broadband broadband coverage. The UK's lowest-ranking optical fiber coverage rate is only 1.5%, which is horrible.
Therefore, in the United States, Australia, Canada and Europe alone, the population without broadband coverage is close to 100 million. These populations are the main users of Starlink system. As long as the Starlink system can develop 10 million users, the annual access fee income can reach about 12 billion US dollars, which is enough to cover the system maintenance cost and have a surplus.
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