After delaying the 16th Starlink mission on Sunday, SpaceX has now launched its Falcon 9 rocket to bring its Starlink satellite count to 955.
Deploying its payload of 60 satellites into orbit is the seventh mission for the Falcon 9’s first-stage rocket booster, which landed successfully back on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ droneship in the Atlantic. The rocket launched from the Space Launch Complex 40, or SLC-40, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday, November 24 at 9:13pm EST.
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Per Space.com, this launch puts SpaceX within about eight more Starlink missions before it completes the first phase of its constellation of 1,440 satellites.
These satellites orbit Earth at an altitude of 550km (340 miles). SpaceX is targeting “near global coverage” by next year. The second phase of satellites will orbit at over 1,000km (621 miles).
SpaceX last month rolled out its ‘Better Than Nothing Beta’ to users in rural and remote parts of northern US and, as of last week, also to southern parts of Canada.
Recent Starlink beta tests show that Starlink is delivering data speeds from 50Mbps to 150Mbps and latency from 20ms to 40ms. That blows away speeds that many residents in rural and remote areas of the US and elsewhere can access.
However, SpaceX says as more satellites go up and more ground stations are installed, along with improvements in its networking software, it will be able to reduce latency even further.
Kate Tice, a SpaceX senior certification engineer, said Starlink expects to achieve 16ms to 19ms latency by summer 2021.
All the availability cells currently in the US and Canada lie within the 43 degree and 53 degree latitudes, but some areas within that band can’t get a Starlink service.
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However, as more satellites go into orbit, more cells become available. Tice said SpaceX expects to significantly expand its beta program in late January or early February 2021.
Users who are accepted on the beta program need to buy a dish and modem/router for $499 and then pay a subscription of $99 a month.
SpaceX engineers explained in a Reddit Ask Me Anything this week that when users first turn on a Starlink terminal, it knows nothing about where the satellites are. Instead, the dish “automatically scans the sky in a matter of milliseconds and locks into the satellite overhead, even though it’s traveling 17,500mph”.
Starlink currently does not have data caps in the beta service, but its engineers said the company “might have to do something in the future to prevent abuse and just ensure that everyone else gets quality service”.
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