With Falcon 9 carrying two satellites code-named Microsat-2a and Microsoft-2b, SpaceX’s closely guarded Starlink program finally kicked off.
The “Star Chain” program consists of 12,000 satellites, about 10 times the number of satellites in service and twice the number of all satellites launched in human history. With all 12,000 successful launches, SpaceX could overhaul the high-cost, low-reliability networks of the past and provide Internet access services “to the United States or the world” directly from space, comparable to fiber-optic networks.
A second-hand SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket ignition engine lifted off at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California at 22:17 a.m. Beijing time. Two minutes later, the rocket separated from two stages. About 11 minutes later, a Spanish earth observation satellite PAZ reached orbit about 514 kilometers above the earth. The deployment was successful.
The so-called “second-hand” is because the first stage of the rocket was on a launch mission in August 2017, when it was successfully recovered on a barge in the Pacific Ocean. But this time, SpaceX probably thought that everything had been used and no attempt was made to recover the first stage of the rocket.
In the official announcement, the main payload for the launch was the Earth Observation Satellite PAZ, but more attention has been paid to the other two satellites, Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, which were the first test satellites launched by SpaceX for its ambitious satellite Internet project.
The company’s vice president for satellite administration had previously told the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology that SpaceX would officially orbit the Internet satellite in 2019 and that the launch would last until 2024. Moreover, SpaceX will use the “recycled rocket” launched successfully to reduce the total cost. Eventually, they will build a “star chain” network of about 12,000 satellites in space to provide high-speed Internet access to the Earth from space.
Precision deployment of ten thousand satellites
As early as 2014, the founder of SpaceX Elon Mask announced his dream of launching the Internet satellite. In November 2016, SpaceX submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the first batch of applications to launch 4,425 Internet satellites in an attempt to provide global users with 1 Gbps of high-speed Internet access. The company clearly stated in the application that the satellite system is mainly used to provide a variety of broadband and communication services for global individual users, commercial users, institutional users, government and professional users. The total estimated cost of the whole project is between 5 billion and 10 billion dollars.
The first batch of more than 4000 communications satellites will not be launched at once. Each of them weighs about 386 kilograms and will be divided into 5 orbital heights and no more than 32 orbits. The 1,600 satellites that SpaceX plans to deploy initially will be located at a unified orbital altitude, followed by 2,825 other satellites in four different orbits that will operate at higher altitudes than the International Space Station, which normally remains at 431 kilometers, each covering an area of about 2,120 kilometers wide.
And it’s just that satellites deployed in low Earth orbit, 1,150 to 1,325 kilometers above the Earth, all transmit data between Ku and Ka bands; SpaceX also plans to have 7,518 satellites deployed in very low Earth orbit, or 335 to 346 kilometers above the Earth, in V bands. A total of 12 thousand satellites.
All eyes on global Internet coverage
SpaceX’s first deployment of about 800 satellites will be mainly used to cover the United States, Puerto Rico and other places. According to previous plans, when 4,425 satellites in low Earth orbit are fully optimized, they will be able to provide global consumers and commercial users with 1 Gbps of high bandwidth and low latency Internet access services, 180 times faster than the current global average Internet speed.
Once all of the 10,000 satellites are deployed, they could theoretically provide ubiquitous global Internet services and eliminate the problem of delays in data transmission, so they are expected to usher in a new era of human communication.
However, SpaceX is not the only company with such ambition. Boeing has also submitted an application to the FCC to launch 2,956 Internet satellites; Facebook founder Zuckerberg plans to use UAVs, satellites and laser technology to provide Internet services for people in remote areas; and OneWeb, backed by airbus, wants to bring online life to the world, especially in rural areas. Google took the “adulteration “approach – it and Fidelity jointly invested $1 billion in SpaceX in 2015 as a sponsor of the” “star chain” “program.
For SpaceX, these are not only competitors but also helpers of the way forward. But there is also a voice that is simply not optimistic about Musk and his “Star Chain” program. The FCC has received complaints that SpaceX has deployed too many satellites in orbit and is fully responsible for the congestion of space communications.