Tesla chief Elon Musk, who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the US on Wednesday, hinted at plans to introduce “Starlink” in India – an internet service provider from SpaceX, which he also owns. Musk said Starlink would be an “incredible help to those in remote or rural villages, where they perhaps either may have no access to the Internet or the Internet is very expensive and slow”.
In March, SpaceX launched a set of “52 Starlink internet satellites” to orbit from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base. The company has further obtained permission to position 12,000 such satellites in low Earth orbit and has applied for permission to deploy an additional 30,000 satellites. Let’s understand why Starlink differs from other internet service providers.
What is Starlink?
Starlink is the world’s first “satellite constellation” that uses low-Earth orbit to deliver broadband internet that is capable of supporting streaming, online gaming, video calls and more.
The company claims to deliver “high-speed and low latency internet” to users all over the world as it uses advanced satellites and user hardware coupled with deep experience of both spacecraft and on-orbit operations.
How does it work?
-According to Starlink’s official website, most satellite internet services use a single geostationary satellite that is located far away from Earth, at a distance of about 35,786 km.
-Because of the long distance, the time it takes for data to travel between the user and the satellite, known as latency, is high. This high latency makes it difficult to support activities like streaming, online gaming, and video calls.
-Starlink is a network of thousands of satellites that orbit much closer to Earth, at a distance of about 550 km. These satellites are spread out to cover the entire globe.
-Being in a lower orbit, the latency with Starlink is significantly reduced to around 25 milliseconds, compared to over 600 milliseconds with traditional satellite internet services.
-The lower latency offered by Starlink makes it more suitable for activities that require real-time interaction.
Features of Starlink
-Starlink satellites have a compact, flat panel design that reduces their volume, allowing for dense launches using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
-These satellites are equipped with autonomous maneuvering capabilities to avoid collisions with space debris and other spacecraft.
-Starlink’s satellites utilise “custom-built navigation sensors” to determine their precise location, altitude, and orientation. This enables accurate placement of broadband connectivity across the globe.
-Starlink is also testing optical space lasers on its satellites, enabling data transmission without relying on local ground stations.
-Each Starlink satellite incorporates four powerful phased array antennas and two parabolic antennas, resulting in increased data transmission capacity.
-Starlink satellites are propelled by efficient ion thrusters powered by krypton. These thrusters enable orbital adjustments, maneuvering in space, and controlled deorbiting at the end of their lifespan.
-Starlink is the first spacecraft to utilise “krypton propulsion” instead of conventional xenon. Krypton is chosen due to its slightly higher ionization potential and cost-effectiveness.