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SpaceX’s mission to cover the Earth in satellite-beamed internet kicks off this week


Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket company could soon be ... your internet provider.

This week, the company is launching the first two test satellites for Starlink, a program that aims to cover the planet in gigabit broadband internet. The main payload for its February 22 launch is the Paz Spanish military Earth observation satellite, but Musk confirmed via tweet that two Starlink demonstration sats are coming along as extra cargo.

Official communications with the FCC and other regulatory government agencies has been the main way to track what Musk and company (and Google, an investor in the project) have been doing with Starlink. What we know is that the Earth-orbiting constellation is planned to be the largest ever – made up of about 12,000 new satellites, or roughly 3x the amount of active and inactive satellites in orbit right now. And because Starlink will operate in Lower Earth Orbit (LEO), the system should provide much faster speeds than current satellite broadband networks.

One aim of Starlink will be to bring connectivity to any area of the world, including regions where internet is scarce today. But Musk did say in 2015 that he estimates Starlink will be particularly useful for "long-distance" internet transmissions around the globe and should eventually be handling more than half of that type of traffic in the world about. Coupling that with a smaller percentage of local internet provisions, Starlink could take over "10% of all earth’s connectivity," Musk said.

The SpaceX boss also let on that user terminals for Starlink, used to get hooked up to the service, will cost $100 to $300.

On February 14, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressed support for Starlink in a statement: "Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach. And it can offer more competition where terrestrial Internet access is already available ... I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application."

The commission, in the last year, approved satellite broadband projects by OneWeb, Space Norway and Telestat, but SpaceX's proposed constellation is the largest of the type by almost 10,000 thousand satellites.

SpaceX hopes to get Starlink up and running by 2020, with plans to apply the revenues collected from the network to – what else? – manned missions to Mars.

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