SpaceX has been using its Falcon 9 rocket to launch satellites for governments and companies around the world, but it might launch some of its own soon. The space firm headed by Elon Musk is working on plans for a satellite network that provides broadband internet access. This network may finally have a name: Starlink.
The name comes from a trademark filing at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on August 21st. In it, SpaceX requests the Starlink trademark for wireless broadband communication services, high-speed wireless Internet access, telecommunications gateway services, and a myriad of other areas that would fit with a satellite communication network. The company has also applied for a new trademark on “SpaceX” in satellite networking. This is a separate trademark filing from the “SpaceX” trademark that covers the company’s existing space efforts.
So, whenever SpaceX gets around to launching its satellite communication network, it could very well be branded “Starlink.” Getting the Starlink satellites into orbit will be a monumental task, but SpaceX is in a better place than most. Having its own highly efficient rockets should make the process of deploying the satellites faster and cheaper.
The basic design of SpaceX’s network calls for several thousand small satellites forming a mesh network around Earth. They would orbit at an altitude of 715 to 823 miles (1,150 to 1,324 kilometers), significantly lower than most communication satellites. According to SpaceX, this would allow the network to provide gigabit speeds with about 25ms of latency, which is on par with a good cable connection. Current satellite ISPs have latencies around 600ms, which is more than half a second. That makes real-time applications like VoIP, video chat, and gaming largely impossible. Thus, only those in rural areas without access to faster connectivity subscribe to satellite internet.
Previous statements from SpaceX VP of satellite government affairs Patricia Cooper have indicated the network could begin operation with a series of launches in 2019, reaching its full capacity in 2024. SpaceX has also suggested that it could deploy as many as 7,500 more satellites at an even lower altitude to help cover densely populated areas. There was no timeline for this evolution of Starlink.
Gigabit broadband adoption has been sluggish on the ground due to the cost of running new lines. Traditional cable connections have also been slow to improve, thanks to a lack of competition. Completely wireless services like Starlink could be the answer. But first, they have to get off the ground.
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