On Wednesday, during a keynote speech Elon Musk gave at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, the SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk announced a major update on the rollout timeline for his low-Earth orbit high-speed broadband internet service, Starlink.
SpaceX has increased its push to provide affordable satellite internet globally, amidst competition with Amazon.com subsidiary Kuiper, OneWeb – a collapsed satellite operator rescued by the British government and India’s Bharti Group. Musk said Starlink will launch its global satellite internet services in August, a month earlier than previously scheduled.
“In August we should have global connectivity in everywhere except the poles,” Musk said through video from California during his keynote at the Mobile World Congress, MWC, the telecoms industry’s largest annual gathering, which is being held in Barcelona. This means that the launch is nearly ready.
Starlink President Gwynne Shotwell, had last week said that Starlink would go global this September, Musk’s announcement means the deadline has just moved up a few weeks.
Besides the announcement of the global launch, Musk said Starlink will need $30 billion to execute its satellite tasks and steer the company to profitable business. He talked about plans to augment existing investments that include over 1,500 satellites shot into space.
“With Falcon 9 we achieved the most efficient reusability for any rocket to date,” said Musk. Some rockets are slated to fly 20 or even 30 times. “When you look at the cost of the rocket, you’ve got 60% of the cost in the first stage, and about 10% in the faring,” Musk explained. “So this is really a very good number for a rocket,” he added, referencing the forthcoming Starlink prototype’s space missions in comparison to Saturn V rockets. “It’s about 3.5 to 1 ratio of oxygen to fuel […] instead of helium with the Falcon 9.” Helium is expensive, so the cost of propellant for Starship will be comparable to the cost of a Falcon 9, but with full reusability, Musk explained.
The cost of reusing a Starship will cost a little less than $2 million, said Musk during the keynote. The Starship will also see orbital refueling primarily with oxygen. It’s “the first system that will be capable of building a base on the moon, and a city on Mars.”
“We’re hoping to do our first orbital launch attempt [for Starship] in the next few months,” said Musk. He also said the Starship’s orbital launch site will be ready in the next month or so. “SpaceX is trying to extend the scope of consciousness beyond Earth, and Tesla is trying to ensure that life is good on Earth in terms of sustainable energy,” he added, summarizing his intentions with his companies. “That future includes expanding the scope and scale of consciousness. We don’t really know what the answers are, or what questions to ask.”
He mentioned “two quite significant partnerships with major country telcos” that could help the SpaceX division plug the gaps in fifth-generation mobile and cellular networks.
“This is helpful because a number of countries have requirements that — in order to receive a 5G license, you also have to provide rural coverage. So sometimes urban customers end up subsidizing rural customers,” he said.
Starlink, an array of low-orbit satellites offering high-speed, low-latency connectivity, is already offering a trial service and aims to cover the world. It is operating in about a dozen countries, adding more every month, with Musk forecasting that total customer numbers would reach half a million over the next 12 months, from the 69,000 it has now.
Musk said the company plans to reduce the cost of its services to enable affordability, since many of its Starlink users will be rural dwellers. The terminal costs is expected to be reduced from over $1000 to $300-500 in the next 12 months.
“Our customers will very often live in remote regions. Sometimes they’re up in a cabin up in the mountain that doesn’t even have electricity!” So SpaceX is designing the system so it doesn’t need a lot of maintenance, and it is intended to go online in just five minutes. “You should [be able to] point it at the sky and plug it in,” he said.
Musk noted that Starlink satellites orbit Earth at around 500 km, whereas geosynchronous satellites are at about 1,000 km.
However, huge concern lies on the profitability of the business as $300 and $100 satellite internet is considered unaffordable for rural dwellers who will make up large number of Starlink customers. Experts believe it may deter investors from putting their money in Starlink.