Starlink, the satellite internet constellation operated by SpaceX, was launched in October 2020, and has more than 400,000 users worldwide. It has partnered with airlines and cruise ships, and played a role in Ukraine war.
Musk said on Twitter on Saturday that SpaceX has so far manufactured more than one million Starlink user terminals, which connect to the company’s satellites in orbit.
Starlink can be an option for those living in remote areas who don’t have access to affordable broadband.
What’s the hype about Starlink?
SpaceX, the aerospace manufacturer founded by Musk, has an expansive, high-speed satellite internet network in space called Starlink. The satellites in orbit envelope the Earth and offer broadband connectivity to users – especially those in rural areas without fixed-line connections.
SpaceX launched its first satellites in May 2019 and now has more than 2,900 satellites in low-earth orbit. The goal is to have up to 42,000 satellites by mid-2027.
The satellites are strapped onto SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and blasted into orbit, usually releasing 60 per launch.
When the service began, SpaceX said in an email to Starlink beta test subscribers they should expect speeds between 50 and 150 megabits per second, with intermittent outages. But some users hit much higher speeds. Starlink has even reached speeds of 175 Mbps in freezing temperatures, high winds and snow.
Costs have fluctuated
A Starlink subscription is US$110 per month and another US$600 for the Starlink kit, which includes a mounting tripod, a Wi-fi router, and a terminal.
The service costs more than what it initially charged users in October 2020. Customers previously paid US$600 upfront for the kit and monthly subscription. SpaceX told customers in March it was raising prices, with new customers now paying US$710 upfront.
However, prices were cut in late August for users in the United States and Europe.
Starlink wanted by airlines and cruises
SpaceX asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March 2021 if it could expand Starlink to the automotive industry. In June, the agency granted SpaceX authorisation to use Starlink on vehicles in motion.
Since its FCC request last year, Starlink has signed deals with the likes of Royal Caribbean, Hawaiian Airlines, and semi-private regional jet service JSX to offer passengers Wi-fi. The company has also been in talks with Delta and Frontier Airlines.
Starlink uses antennas – “electrically identical” to existing user terminals – which can be mounted on vehicles, vessels and aircraft. Musk tweeted that the antennas would not connect Tesla cars to Starlink because the terminals are “much too big”.
“This is for aircraft, ships, large trucks & RVs,” the billionaire said, who also tweeted that he’s testing Starlink on his private jet.
Activating in Ukraine and Iran
Since Russian president Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February, SpaceX has provided thousands of Starlink dishes to Ukrainians. This is despite Russia ramping up efforts to hack the network.
Ukraine’s vice-prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, asked Musk in February to send Starlink terminals to Ukraine. In response, Musk said Starlink was activated in Ukraine and promised terminals were on the way. By June, SpaceX had delivered 15,000 Starlink internet kits to Ukraine.
Reports suggest Starlink has helped Ukrainian troops. One example was when a Ukrainian soldier told a journalist that Starlink had helped Ukrainian soldiers to stay online while Russia attacked internet infrastructure.
Musk tweeted on Friday that Starlink was being activated in Iran at the same time as network outages hit the country. The disruption with connectivity and social media apps came amid protests over the death of a 22-year-old woman who died in police custody. South China Morning Post