Starlink: Here’s What’s Going On with Elon Musk’s Internet Venture
It’s been a news-filled week (already) for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and it’s not even half over. First, SpaceX announced that it is accepting $99, fully refundable preorders for its Starlink satellite internet service, as reported by CNBC.
Then, the space flight and satellite company received a contract from NASA to provide launch services for the agency’s Power and Propulsion Element and Habitation and Logistics Outpost. In a press release, NASA described the components as the “foundational elements” of the Gateway, which is a way station where astronauts will stop prior to transport to the Moon’s surface.
The system is part of the Artemis project, NASA’s program to land people, including for the first time, a woman, on the moon by 2024.
$331.8 Million for PPE and HALO Launch
The NASA press release announced plans to launch the PPE and HALO together on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than May 2024.
Many, including SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, had voiced concerns that the goal to reach Mars by 2024 could be a stretch. When President Joe Biden took office, announcing intentions to put a portion of NASA’s budget toward environmental studies, some wondered if the Artemis program would continue at all. But the latest development, which will come at a cost of $331.8 million to the agency, according to the NASA press release, seems to indicate Artemis will power forward.
Starlink Strives for Expanded Beta Testing
Similarly, Starlink continues to advance in its capabilities and availability. Starlink is designed to be a high-speed, low-latency broadband satellite internet provider, primarily created to serve those in remote and rural areas where most broadband service won’t reach.
Beta testers can currently expect to see data speeds from 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps, according to the Starlink website. By comparison, home broadband internet providers like Verizon FIOS deliver speeds of 100 Mbps, 300 Mbps, or 1 Gbps, according to the website. Anything between 100 and 200 Mbps is generally considered to be adequate for home use, according to the website BroadbandNow, a portal designed to connect consumers with internet services.
But for consumers who only have access to satellite and DSL service, 100 Mbps may seem lightning fast. Satellite companies like HughesNet and ViaSat only offer speeds up to 25 Mbps right now, with traditionally higher costs than the broadband services available in more populated areas.
Prospective Starlink customers can sign up as beta testers on a first-come, first-served basis, at a cost of $499 upfront for the Starlink kit, which includes a Wi-Fi router and a user terminal (satellite dish), says CNBC. After that, the service costs $99 per month.
Starlink notes that “placing a deposit does not guarantee service” and also states that “orders may take six months or more to fulfill.” That’s because coverage is not yet available in every region.
Starlink says its satellites fly over 60 times closer to Earth than conventional internet satellite services, leading to lower latency and higher speeds. As the number of Starlink satellites increase, so will bandwidth.
SpaceX needs to pass through a deep chasm of negative cash flow over the next year or so to make Starlink financially viable. Every new satellite constellation in history has gone bankrupt. We hope to be the first that does not.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 9, 2021
IPO on the Horizon?
In a series of tweets, Musk delved into some of the most pressing challenges facing Starlink:
“SpaceX needs to pass through a deep chasm of negative cash flow over the next year or so to make Starlink financially viable. Every new satellite constellation in history has gone bankrupt. We hope to be the first that does not,” he tweeted.
User @RationalEtienne, who goes by the handle “Official* Pope of Muskanity,” asked, “I beseech you to offer Starlink at a lower price in some developing countries considering that they may not be able to afford the services?”
Musk responded: “Starlink is a staggeringly difficult technical & economic endeavor. However, if we don’t fail, the cost to end users will improve every year.”
And then, Musk dropped what might be the most exciting news of this week, so far, for retail investors. “Once we can predict cash flow reasonably well, Starlink will IPO.”
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