SpaceX was once again back on the launch pad early Thursday morning with their Falcon 9 rocket. Today's launch was the beginning of their planned 12,000 satellite constellation which will beam Internet down to almost anywhere on Earth.
SpaceX received approval for the launch last week and while the main cargo of this launch was Spain's Paz Earth-observing satellite, SpaceX also attached two stowaways of their own. The Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b are Internet-beaming satellite prototypes which will be used to gather information about the technology needed for a global satellite Internet array.
The long-term goal for Project Starlink is to have about 4,400 satellites orbiting 700 miles above the Earth and another 7,500 orbiting 200 miles up. With so many satellites, SpaceX should be able to provide coverage to nearly the entire planet at once. Financial projections show Starlink will have roughly 40 million subscribers by 2025 and pull in $30 billion in revenue per year.
Since the satellites are not in geo-stationary orbit, their position relative to a user on Earth will constantly be changing. This is equivalent to moving out of range of one access point and into range of another, but at 10,000 miles per hour and with hundreds of access points. A user's device will then need to constantly calculate which satellite is best at any given time. We've all had issues with GPS connectivity and that has only 24 satellites that don't move in relation to the user.
There is still lots of research to be done on how to accomplish this at scale but that is what today's launch will help with. If these test satellites are successful, SpaceX will then need to convince the FCC to grant them a licence for some radio spectrum. This process takes a very long time but chairman Ajit Pai has voiced his support for the project, saying:
“Following careful review of this application by our International Bureau’s excellent satellite engineering experts, 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. 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.”