SpaceX Reports Milestone for Starlink Satellite Links — And Sparks a Debate

The GeekWire has the detail:

Here’s the full text of today’s statement from SpaceX:

“Just a little over a month after a successful Falcon 9 launch, Starlink is now the first NGSO system to operate in the Ku-band and communicate with U.S. ground stations, demonstrating the system’s potential to provide fast, reliable internet to populations around the world.

“57 Starlink satellites are communicating with SpaceX’s Earth stations using their broadband phased array antennas. 45 Starlink satellites have reached their operational altitude using their onboard propulsion systems, five additional satellites continue their orbit raise, as five others are going through checkouts prior to completing their orbit raise. Two satellites are being intentionally deorbited to simulate an end of life disposal. Three satellites which initially communicated with the ground but are no longer in service, will passively deorbit. Due to their design and low orbital position, all five deorbiting satellites will disintegrate once they enter Earth’s atmosphere in support of SpaceX’s commitment to a clean space environment.

“SpaceX implemented slight variations across the 60 satellites in order to maximize operational capability across the fleet. While we are pleased with the performance of the satellites so far, SpaceX will continue to push the operational capabilities of the satellites to inform future iterations. And, now that the majority of the satellites have reached their operational altitude, SpaceX will begin using the constellation to start transmitting broadband signals, testing the latency and capacity by streaming videos and playing some high bandwidth video games using gateways throughout North America.”

While on the web page, I highly recommend clicking on the video link “Why SpaceX is Making Starlink”

https://www.geekwire.com/2019/spacex-reports-milestone-starlink-satellite-links-sparks-debate/

 

Read the full article HERE to capture the debate discussion.

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SpaceX Faces Daunting Challenges if it’s Going to Win the Internet Space Race

The LA Times has a long article by Samantha Masunaga on SpaceX’s Challenges

Elon Musk and SpaceX have staked their legacy on a spaceship capable of carrying a hundred passengers to Mars. But to pay for that dream, the Hawthorne company is banking on a project that is ambitious in its own way: selling broadband internet service delivered by more than 1,000 small satellites.

Chief Executive Musk has mused to reporters about the technological hurdles facing SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, including antennas that track the satellites as they move through the sky and laser communication systems that allow the spacecraft to talk to each other. Last month, SpaceX launched the first 60 satellites of its planned constellation.
But industry experts say the company’s biggest challenge is financial. SpaceX must drive down the cost of sophisticated hardware and software to the point where it can deliver fast, reliable internet service at a price point that competes with cable or fiber-delivered broadband services, while finding enough underserved markets to provide scale.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell hasn’t been shy about the hurdles Starlink faces.
“This is probably one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging, project we’ve undertaken,” she said during an onstage conversation at a TED conference last year. “No one has been successful deploying a huge constellation for internet broadband. I don’t think physics is the difficulty here. I think we can come up with the right technology solution, but we need to make a business out of it.”

Here’s a look at what Musk and SpaceX must overcome:

Finding a market

SpaceX previously said its broadband coverage would be aimed at customers in the U.S. and around the world, “including areas underserved or currently unserved by existing networks.” In mid-June, Musk seemed to narrow the scope, telling shareholders of Tesla Inc. — Musk’s other high-wire venture — that the broadband plan’s main value was in providing internet access to “rural or semi-rural areas, places that don’t have connectivity right now.”

In 2017, more than 26% of people who lived in rural areas in the U.S. were not covered by terrestrial broadband internet service, according to a May report from the Federal Communications Commission. Industry experts have estimated that only 10% to 20% of the Earth’s land area is covered by terrestrial cell towers.

“It’s probably able to serve 3% to 5% of people in the world, but it’s actually not ideal for high-density cities,” Musk said. “It’s really to serve the unserved or poorly served.”
If successful, Starlink will be a major boon for SpaceX’s business and would diversify the company’s revenue streams beyond rocket launches. During a call with reporters last month, Musk estimated that, with a successful Starlink service, SpaceX could grab at least 3%, or $30 billion, of a $1-trillion global internet connectivity market.

That’s important since Musk said the company’s launch revenue probably “taps out” at about $3 billion a year.

Continues reading HERE.

 

SpaceX Starlink Update

The Verge has a long read update HERE

SpaceX is in communication with all but three of 60 Starlink satellites one month after launch And two of the 60 have intentionally been de-orbited

It’s been over a month since SpaceX launched its first batch of 60 internet-beaming satellites for the company’s massive Starlink initiative, and all but three of the satellites seem to be working as intended. Initially, SpaceX was able to communicate with all 60 spacecraft after launch, but eventually lost communication with three outliers. The uncommunicative trio will continue to orbit the Earth for a time, but will eventually get pulled down toward our planet by gravity, where they will burn up in the atmosphere.

The rest of the 57 satellites have been working as intended, according to the company. Forty-five of the satellites have raised their altitudes with their onboard thrusters and have reached their final intended orbits of 342 miles (550 kilometers) up. Five of the satellites are still in the middle of raising their orbits, and another five are undergoing additional systems checks before they raise their orbits. As for the remaining two satellites, SpaceX intentionally fired their onboard thrusters with the goal of crashing them into the planet’s atmosphere. There wasn’t anything wrong with those satellites — the company just wanted to test the de-orbiting process.

That means that five total satellites are headed into a fiery grave. “Due to their design and low orbital position, all five deorbiting satellites will disintegrate once they enter Earth’s atmosphere in support of SpaceX’s commitment to a clean space environment,” SpaceX said in a statement.

Continue reading HERE

Statlink Update at Engadget

The first batch of 60 Starlink internet satellites has been orbiting Earth for about a week, and now SpaceX has released a status update on the mission. According to a spokesperson, “all 60 satellites have deployed their solar arrays successfully, generated positive power and communicated with our ground stations.”

The statement didn’t directly mention concerns by astronomers about their brightness and visibility, but Elon Musk already has, and they aren’t expected to reach their full altitude for three to four weeks. According to SpaceX, “observability of the Starlink satellites is dramatically reduced as they raise orbit to greater distance and orient themselves with the phased array antennas toward Earth and their solar arrays behind the body of the satellite.”

Parabolic Arc notes that during a speech at MIT this week, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell mentioned four of the units had unspecified problems, while today’s update said “most” are using their Hall thrusters to reach operational altitude and have already made contact with their broadband antennas, but all of them have maneuvering capability to avoid each other and other objects.

SpaceX:

We continue to track the progress of the Starlink satellites during early orbit operations. At this point, all 60 satellites have deployed their solar arrays successfully, generated positive power and communicated with our ground stations.

Most are already using their onboard propulsion system to reach their operational altitude and have made initial contact using broadband phased array antennas.

SpaceX continues to monitor the constellation for any satellites that may need to be safely deorbited. All the satellites have maneuvering capability and are programmed to avoid each other and other objects in orbit by a wide margin.

Also, please note that the observability of the Starlink satellites is dramatically reduced as they raise orbit to greater distance and orient themselves with the phased array antennas toward Earth and their solar arrays behind the body of the satellite

Continue reading HERE.

More CA Broadband Blathering

CA Economic Summit: Digital Inclusion Event Sparks Commitments Around Expansion Of Broadband In California

In a day marked by creativity, candor and collaboration, broadband stakeholders came together during a “Digital Inclusion Roundtable” on last week in Sacramento to develop a set of action steps to expand high-speed broadband deployment throughout California.

The Roundtable was convened through a partnership between the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) and California Forward. Its purpose was to promote policies and practices in state agencies to advance “Digital Inclusion” for all Californians. The event drew more than 40 representatives from state and local governments, League of California Cities, Rural County Representatives of California, Broadband Regional Consortia, internet service providers, tribal interests, the California Council of Governments, and other local and regional stakeholders.

In opening remarks, Amy Tong, director and state chief information officer for the California Department of Technology, noted that statewide broadband initiatives are a priority under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, with much energy focused on the digital divide still facing the state.

“The broadband initiative is taking on a whole new life,” Tong said. “We have done everything we can under the circumstances, but there is a lot more we can do.”

Lenny Mendonca, the Governor’s chief economic and business advisor and director of the Office of Business and Economic Development, echoed those thoughts during a noontime address. He emphasized that broadband access is critical for public safety, education, economic development and a host of other state priorities.

“We really need to have a digitally inclusive economy,” Mendonca said. “It is a priority for the governor.”

The Roundtable discussion featured lively discussion around both opportunities and barriers for expanding broadband access to underserved and unserved areas of the state. It was designed to build upon the work of CETF to integrate Digital Inclusion into all state policies and programs.

CETF is a nonprofit corporation with a goal of broadband deployment and availability to at least 98 percent of California households by 2023 and overall statewide adoption of broadband service by 90 percent of households in that same time frame. The state has made progress, with 84 percent of California households in 2016 able to access high-speed Internet at home, according to a CETF analysis of progress between 2007-2017.

But as that analysis explains, “sobering challenges” remain with a digital divide in California that includes more than 5 million residents offline at home, and 14 percent connected at home by only a smartphone. CETF’s efforts to close the divide have included, among other initiatives, a focus on incorporating broadband deployment into state transportation corridor planning guidelines and recognizing broadband as a “green strategy” for reducing impacts on the environment and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.

The event was designed to assess progress following a September 2018 stakeholder meeting by the California Broadband Council and the California Department of Technology, where participants explored the concept of “strategic corridors” to support broadband deployment. The concept, which arises under the state’s statutory “Dig Once” responsibilities, seeks to establish conduit installation specifications in strategic corridors where transportation projects are being constructed but no internet service provider or public agency is prepared at the time to install conduit.

CETF President and CEO Sunne Wright McPeak noted that the September 2018 forum “was a tremendous conversation,” and that the Roundtable in Sacramento was designed to “hear from state agencies – what you have done and what you intend to do.”

Continue reading HERE. [Emphasis added]

More broadband blather!  Where is the action?  CA blathers about broadband while the states global competitors take action. Even poorer states are taking action when CA the fifth largest economy continues to talk about the problem. Elon Musk’s Starlink will available before we see any concrete action by the state of Calfornia to serve its rural citizens.

StatLink Update 06-14-19

Starlink-solar-array-deploy-SpaceX-pano-3-crop-2-1024x543

Speaking at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting, CEO Elon Musk – also CEO of SpaceX – briefly segued to his spaceflight company’s ambitious Starlink program and discussed how he believes the satellite constellation can support no more than 3-5% of the global population.

On May 23rd, SpaceX successfully launched 60 “v0.9” Starlink satellites – weighing as much as 18.5 tons (~41,000 lb) – into LEO, a first step unmatched in ambition in the history of commercial satellites. Delivered to an orbit of ~450 km (280 mi), all but four of the 60 spacecraft have managed to successfully power up their electric ion thrusters and 55 have already raised their orbits to ~500 km (310 mi). For what is effectively a technology/partial-prototype demonstration mission, the record of Starlink v0.9 performance is extremely impressive and bodes well for a quick and relatively easy design optimization (to “v1.0”) before true mass production can begin.

In general, Musk was more than willing to acknowledge some of the potential limitations of a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband satellite constellation at Tesla’s 2019 shareholder meeting. Most notably, he bluntly noted that Starlink is not designed to service densely populated areas and will predominately be focused on low to medium-density populaces. Triggered by an investor’s question about the possibility of integrating Starlink into future Tesla cars, Musk reiterated that SpaceX’s first-generation Starlink user terminals (i.e. ground antennas) will be roughly the size of a “medium pizza”.

Although pizza sizing is not exactly ISO-certified, Starlink’s user antennas will presumably be around 12-14 inches (30-36 cm) wide and come in a square form factor. Thanks to the use of what Musk believes are the most advanced phased array antennas in the world, neither the antennas on Starlink satellites or user terminals will need to physically move to maintain a strong signal. Still, as Musk notes, an antenna the size of medium pizza box would still stick out like a sore thumb on the typically all-glass roof of an of Tesla’s consumer cars, although built-in Starlink antennas might actually make sense on Tesla Semis.

Elon Musk’s specific comment indicated that Starlink – at least in its current iteration – was never meant to serve more than “3-5%” of Earth (population: ~7.8 billion), with most or all of its users nominally located in areas with low to medium population densities. This generally confirms technical suspicions that Starlink (and other constellations like OneWeb and Telesat) is not really capable of providing internet to everyone per se.

Continue reading at TESLArati

 In general, CEO Elon Musk’s comments serve as an excellent temper to the hype surrounding Starlink. SpaceX isn’t going to initially be breaking the backs of Comcast or Time Warner but there’s no reason to believe that that day will never come.

 

Jeff Bezos Explains Amazon’s Bet on Project Kuiper Satellites

Geek Wire has the details

For the first time in public, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explained the rationale for his risky Project Kuiper satellite broadband venture, during a fireside chat that was interrupted when an animal rights activist jumped on stage.

[. . .]

When Freshwater asked Bezos to name a “big bet” that Amazon has taken recently, he focused on Project Kuiper, the plan to put more than 3,200 satellites in low Earth orbit for global broadband coverage. The project came to light in April, and seems likely to be based in Bellevue, Wash. Here’s how Bezos explained his bet:

“The goal here is broadband everywhere, but the very nature of [having] thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit is very different from geostationary satellites. … You have equal broadband all over the surface of Earth. Not exactly equal, it tends to be a lot more concentrated toward the poles, unfortunately.

“But you end up servicing the whole world. So it’s really good. By definition you end up accessing people who are ‘under-bandwidthed.’ Very rural areas, remote areas. And I think you can see going forward that internet, access to broadband is going to be very close to being a fundamental human need as we move forward.

“So Project Kuiper has that. It’s also a very good business for Amazon because it’s a very high-capex [capital expenditure] undertaking. It’s multiple billions of dollars of capex. … Amazon is a large enough company now that we need to do things that, if they work, can actually move the needle.”

Amazon has already turned on its global satellite control networks, mostly located at it’s Global Data Centers strategically placed around the globe. As a significant provider of cloud services, LEO satellite delivery systems makes good business sense. It is the last link to providing cloud services to every business on the planet, at a highly competitive rate, compared to competitors like Microsoft Asure, IBM Cloud and lesser-known cloud companies relying on existing fiber network infrastructure. Amazon will be able to reach more global customers faster with competitive cloud service rates. More HERE.

The top ten cloud service companies are:

Kamatera.
phoenixNAP.
Amazon Web Services.
Microsoft Azure.
Google Cloud Platform.
Adobe.
VMware.
IBM Cloud.

After Amazon, only Google has made a move toward having an LEO satellite distribution system, partnering with Telesat and adapting Project Loon to LEO applications

Loon adapting connection routing ‘network brain’ from balloons to low Earth orbit satellites

While I admire and root for SpaceX, who is building a top-down system, Amazon is taking a bottom-up approach, building on existing reliable infrastructure and capping it with a fleet of LEO satellites has a higher probability of succeeding.  The open question is can Amazon catch SpaceX and OneWeb who have birds in space.