Here are five things you probably didn't know about Starlink, Elon Musk's satellite Internet network project.
Starlink will be used to finance the colonization of Mars
When Elon Musk announced the Starlink project in 2015, he was already announcing the color, the income generated by Starlink will be used to satisfy his ambitions: "all this in order to generate income to pay for a city on Mars", had- he declares.
The billionaire would like to use SpaceX to establish an autonomous colony on the red planet by 2050. In a Tweet of 2019, Elon Musk had also explained that such ambitions would cost between 100 billion and 10 trillion dollars.
If this statement remains very approximate, the fact remains that such plans have a gigantic cost.
The revenue generated by Starlink could bring the company a few billion dollars a year.
But if Starlink manages to capture 5% of the global Internet connectivity market, it could rise to $ 50 billion, enough to gradually fund Elon Musk's dreams.
Elon Musk is not the only one interested in Mars and wanting to send humans there.
The UAE also has its Martian program and hopes to establish a colony there within 50 to 100 years.
China is also in contention with a similar project.
However, such projects still depend on a lot of scientific unknowns.
This is particularly the case for protection against solar radiation, protection against Martian storms, access to drinking water or the on-site production of rocket fuel.
There could be up to 42,000 Starlink satellites
Currently, the constellation of Starlink satellites consists of around 1,500 units, but is expected to number 12,000 by 2025. The firm is not expected to stop there and has requested permission to send 30,000 more, or 42,000 in total.
This high number of units comes from the fact that the satellites are deployed at low altitude: between 160 and 2,000 km away from the Earth.
For comparison, a typical, slower geostationary internet provider satellite resides about 36,000km high.
If a massive adoption of Starlink takes place, the company will need to increase the number of satellites in orbit to meet demand and advertised performance.
According to SpaceX, more than 500,000 people have already pre-ordered the service, but the firm expects to provide access to millions.
Starlink satellites run on Linux
Each Starlink satellite would have 4,000 small Linux computers within it.
As a reminder, Linux is an open source operating system.
Since the OS is 100% free, it is extremely malleable, an attraction that SpaceX uses to integrate it into its devices.
Thanks to a modified version of the OS, the thousands of computers are interconnected and synchronized with each other to operate the satellites in real time.
SpaceX has also built its own version of Linux, to adapt the OS to all the components and specifics of its space devices.
It is also thanks to Linux that satellites deploy their anti-collision mechanisms, by artificial intelligence.
Other vehicles of the firm are equipped with the appropriate free OS, as is the case for example of the reusable rockets of the Falcon and Dragon ranges.
The Starlink satellite fleet will soon exceed the total number of satellites launched since 1957
There are already some 1,500 Starlink satellites in orbit, but 12,000 are expected by 2025. In a few years, SpaceX's fleet alone should exceed all of the satellites in orbit since 1957, or around 9,000.
The very first satellite in history "Sputnik 1" was launched on October 4, 1957 by the Soviet Union, at the same time launching the race to conquer space between the Soviet bloc and the United States.
The number of satellites present at low altitude is likely to increase exponentially in the years to come, as in addition to the 12,000 Starlink satellites, other similar projects are under development. China has announced the launch of a 13,000-unit constellation. The European Union and Russia are also involved on a smaller scale, as is the case with firms competing with Starlink such as Amazon, OneWeb or Telesat.
The problem of space debris now arises more than ever, as more than six decades of orbital occupation have generated around 900,000 debris 1 to 10cm and 21,000 larger than 10cm.
It comes from out-of-service devices or sacrificed parts of rockets.
Collisions between debris traveling at very high speed generate even more debris, and tend to damage other functional satellites.
Massive constellations like Starlink will thus make the situation more complicated to manage, because their concentration and their number could make space navigation more difficult, as well as hamper astronomers in observing the sky.
SpaceX has, however, equipped its devices with small thrusters to direct them out of Earth's orbit into the great vacuum when they become obsolete.
Elon Musk isn't the first to come up with the idea for projects like Starlink
The idea of providing an Internet connection anywhere on the globe is not new.
Since the 1990s, satellite Internet connection services have been introduced.
At the time and until recently, a large land surface coverage was favored with a single satellite in geostationary orbit, at an altitude of more than 30,000 km, against 300 to 2,000 km high for satellites in low orbit in mega -constellation.
The distance of these first satellites considerably increases the latency of the network and its speed, making certain more modern uses such as streaming, videoconferencing or online games difficult to practice.
But at the same time, during the 90s, low-orbit satellite constellation projects had already been designed to provide fast and high-speed Internet connections, but never came to fruition. Motorola, for example, in 1998 envisioned the low-latency, low-earth orbit Internet service “Celestri”. This constellation was to consist of 63 satellites at an altitude of 1,400 km. The project was however abandoned the same year for lack of budget.
Motorola preferred to invest in a similar competing project "Teledesic". The latter was designed in 1994 and had the ambition to deploy 840 satellites 700 km high. Teledesic finally fell back on 288 machines at an altitude of 1,400 km as for Celestri. But faced with construction constraints and lack of demand at the time, the project was abandoned in 2002.
Low-orbit constellation projects reappeared in the 2010s, the OneWeb project - called WoldVu at the time - emerged in 2014, and had the ambition to collaborate with SpaceX among others in the construction and launch of satellites.
But Elon Musk's firm finally announced the following year to launch its own competing Starlink network.
The first satellite launches of the two projects were both orchestrated in 2019, but Starlink is benefiting from a more sustained deployment pace thanks to SpaceX's reusable rockets.
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