Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk is not afraid to shill for his company’s products, but he gets fewer chances with his work at SpaceX. After all, most of us aren’t in the market for space launch services, but we might be interested in satellite internet as an alternative to the widely reviled terrestrial ISPs. SpaceX is working toward deploying thousands of internet satellites for its Starlink system, and Musk just sent the first tweet using the space-based satellite network.
The tweet in question doesn’t provide any new information about how the service works, when you can have it, or how much it will cost. No, it’s just Musk saying that he sent the tweet via a Starlink satellite in space. He followed that tweet up with another reading “Whoa, it worked!!”
We can chalk up Musk’s surprise not to the fact that he sent a tweet via space, but that SpaceX’s Starlink network successfully pushed the post through. Several satellite internet providers have been transmitting data from place to place using satellites for decades, but Starlink aims to be better than those. Traditional satellite internet is a last resort for people in remote areas who can’t get more reliable options. So, they’re willing to put up with slow speeds and high latency.
SpaceX has already launched a few dozen Starlink satellites earlier this year, but the eventual Starlink constellation could consist of tens of thousands of individual satellites. Some of those will be in very low orbits that allow them to reduce latency for users on the surface. Musk initially wanted to have 2,000 satellites in orbit by the end of the year, but it doesn’t look like he’ll hit that goal.
When the first batch of satellites went up, SpaceX had plans to launch a total of 12,000 in the coming years. More recently, it has talked about boosting that number by as much as 30,000. That has other satellite operators and space agencies a little concerned — space is big, but it’s not that big. With just 60 satellites in its fleet, an ESA satellite nearly smacked into one of them last month. A fleet of thousands will be much more difficult to track and manage. The ESA has called for more effective traffic management rules to prevent future collisions.
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