Tag Archives: ‘Starlink’

SpaceX’s Newest Starlink Satellites Have Space Lasers

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SpaceX made history recently when it launched a record 143 satellites on a single rocket. Among the plethora of spacecraft were ten new Starlink internet satellites. According to CEO Elon Musk, these are the first nodes in SpaceX’s network that have fully operational laser communication systems, allowing the satellites to talk to each other without ground stations for faster, more expansive coverage. 

Last weekend’s launch was also notable because it deployed its payload in a polar orbit, which uses more fuel than placing things in an equatorial orbit. Objects in a polar orbit will eventually pass over the entire surface of the planet because their movement is perpendicular to the Earth’s rotation. That’s why most mapping satellites are in polar orbits. Starlink satellites in polar orbits can also help boost coverage, but this also means they’ll pass over areas with no ground station coverage.

The solution, apparently, is lasers. It’s always fun when the solution is lasers. 

The batch of ten Starlink satellites includes a finished version of the laser intersatellite links the company tested on a few other nodes last year. As these satellites pass over the poles, there will be no visible ground stations to relay data. However, the lasers can transfer directly between satellites, keeping them connected to the rest of the constellation. 

The Falcon 9 launching SpaceX’s first rideshare mission.

Musk says that during last year’s test, the lasers beamed hundreds of gigabytes of data between nodes, and that could have benefits beyond the coverage boost. Moving data directly between satellites could speed up the network and help keep latency at a minimum — anything that decreases hops to the ground will make the network more dynamic. 

The good news is that SpaceX plans to add the same laser intersatellite links to all the satellites it launches next year. There are almost 1,000 in orbit right now, and SpaceX is authorized to deploy as many as 12,000, but it has asked the FCC to let it launch up to 30,000 more on top of that. 

Currently, Starlink internet service operates in parts of the northern US and Canada, offering speeds in excess of 100Mbps. For those in rural areas who were making do with ancient satellite internet or barely passable DSL, this is a big step up. The service will expand as SpaceX launches more satellites to eventually offer access globally. Well, unless you’re in Russia.

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Russia Might Issue Fines for Using SpaceX Starlink Internet Service

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SpaceX is busy ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station these days, but that’s not all Elon Musk’s aerospace firm is doing. It’s also gearing up for a Mars colonization effort and deploying a satellite internet constellation called Starlink. You can get Starlink internet in a few places, but Russia doesn’t want any of its citizens going through the SpaceX system as it expands. In fact, the country has floated the idea of fining people for using Starlink or other foreign satellite internet services. 

Starlink relies on the same basic premise as traditional satellite internet — the subscriber on the ground has an antenna which they point upward to communicate with the space-based network. Services like Hughes and ViaSat have been around for years, offering mediocre speeds for an exorbitant amount of money. You can’t blame them too much — launching satellites is expensive unless you’re SpaceX. 

The company is constantly launching batches of 60 Starlink satellites aboard its Falcon 9 rockets, which are much easier and cheaper to launch thanks to SpaceX’s reusable design. There are currently almost 1,000 nodes in the Starlink network, but the company is approved for 12,000 total satellites to provide faster speeds and cable-like latency. As it approaches that number, Starlink should be available globally, but Russian citizens might find their government discourages using Starlink. 

Russia is strongly invested in monitoring and controlling internet traffic among its people. In the Russian edition of Popular Mechanics, a report claims the government is looking at fines for anyone who uses Starlink or a similar “western” satellite internet service. The fines could range from 10,000 to 30,000 rubles ($ 135-$ 405) for individuals who use Starlink. Businesses could see fines of 500,000 to 1 million rubles ($ 6,750 to $ 13,500).

What a SpaceX Starlink satellite looks like in orbit.

Any traffic going through a satellite internet service will bypass any controls or monitoring programs active within Russia. Russia’s spaceflight chief, Dmitry Rogozin has also criticized the US government’s support of SpaceX, which he considers “predatory” and geared toward projecting American power across the globe. However, satellite internet might be inevitable as even those in rural areas have started expecting reliable connectivity. A recent survey found that more than half of Americans were at least willing to consider switching to Starlink when it’s available in their area — that’s how much we all hate our ISPs. 

Russia has started making plans for a national satellite internet platform called Sphere that could begin launching as soon as 2024. However, the cost of deploying such a system with Russia’s current launch assets could be prohibitively high.

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SpaceX Starlink Beta Could Expand As Soon As January 2021

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SpaceX has been launching Starlink internet satellites for the last 18 months or so, and all they managed to do for most of that time is tick off astronomers. However, the first users have been able to log onto SpaceX’s Starlink internet service, and their impressions are good. This is just a small beta test, but SpaceX is apparently planning a wider test early next year

Satellite internet service is nothing new — companies like Viasat and HughesNet have been offering similar services for years, but they’re slow, laggy, and really only worth using in remote areas where there are no other options. Starlink appears to be focusing on isolated folks in the closed beta, but the speeds aren’t what we’re used to seeing from those other “last resort” satellite services. 

Ookla Speedtest data shows Starlink tops out around 80 Mbps down, which is several times faster than the other satellite internet providers. Starlink also has much better latency in these early tests, around 42ms total. The competition is up closer to a full second of latency. As more satellites join the Starlink constellation, the faster and more reliable the speeds will get. SpaceX currently claims between 50 and 150 Mbps for the beta period with just a small part of the network online. 

Currently, Starlink’s beta is only available to select customers in the northern US and southern Canada. That’s due to the orbit of the existing constellation, which includes just shy of 900 satellites. In a recent Reddit post, Starlink engineers answered questions about the service. Among the more interesting answers, the company confirmed it hopes to open up the beta program soon, possibly as soon as January 2021. 

What a SpaceX Starlink satellite looks like in orbit.

SpaceX has talked about offering broadband to students in a Texas school district as a test next year. That would suggest SpaceX plans to have Starlink active in lower latitudes by then. Previously, SpaceX planned to have Starlink up and running globally next year, but that might not be in the cards. Even sending up 60 satellites in each Falcon 9, it will take time to bulk up Starlink. The company is approved for 12,000, but it’s already the world’s largest satellite operator with the existing network. The company has also made it known it wants to get approval for as many as 30,000 more satellites. 

If you want to get into the expanded beta, head to the Starlink site and sign up for the email newsletter. This is the list SpaceX uses to send out beta invites. The service costs $ 99 per month, and the setup fee (including the dish) is $ 500.

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Starlink Beta Speed Tests Put Traditional Satellite Internet to Shame

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SpaceX has been launching batches of Starlink internet satellites on a regular basis since May 2019, and there are now hundreds of nodes in its megaconstellation. That provides sufficient coverage that SpaceX has started rolling out a beta test of its new satellite internet service. According to data from Ookla Speedtest (and analyzed by our colleagues at PCMag), Starlink is living up to its lofty speed claims

Starlink joins a market that has long been dominated by a handful of companies like HughesNet and Viasat that offer sluggish satellite internet as a last resort for consumers who don’t have any other options. The current network features almost 900 satellites, some of which orbit much lower than traditional internet satellites. That helps Starlink deliver higher speeds and lower latency. 

While Starlink isn’t cheap with its $ 500 equipment fee and $ 100 monthly bill, it’s vastly outperforming the other satellite internet providers. In its invitation emails, SpaceX promises between 50 and 150Mbps, and it’s running well inside that range. With the launch of the beta, Ookla has seen the average Starlink speed jump from 30-40Mbps all the way to 79.5Mbps down. 

The speed comparison is not kind to the old guard of satellite internet. HughesNet ekes out a mere 19.84Mbps down, and Viasat isn’t much better with 24.75Mbps. The difference in upload speeds is even more stark. While Starlink is currently managing a 13.8Mbps average upload, HughesNet and Viasat are at 2.64and 3.25Mbps, respectively. 

Everyone focuses on download speeds, but you need a decent upload for the video chats that have become such an important part of our lives during the pandemic. Latency is also an important part of real-time services like video chats. Again, Starlink is blowing other satellite internet services out of the water. The Ookla data shows Starlink with 42ms of latency on average. That’s enough to make video chats bearable. HughesNet, by comparison, has 728ms of latency. SpaceX even claims its network will be able to get under 20ms by next summer. I get 8-10ms on my home cable connection. 

Currently, Starlink’s beta is only available to select customers in the northern US. CEO Elon Musk has said he hopes to expand the beta into Canada. Eventually, the Starlink megaconstellation will feature at least 12,000 satellites with coverage for most of the world.

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SpaceX Launches ‘Better Than Nothing’ Starlink Beta

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SpaceX’s fully reusable Falcon 9 launch system has given it the ability to get objects into space much less expensively than ever before, and it started using that capability to launch Starlink internet satellites in 2018. Now, there are hundreds of satellites in orbit, and SpaceX is ready to start testing the service on a limited basis. Those lucky few who have gotten invitations to try the service will have to pay a hefty upfront cost, and the speeds aren’t amazing. Still, it’s a new generation of satellite internet. 

According to SpaceX’s official count, there are just shy of 900 Starlink nodes in orbit of Earth—about 3 percent of the low-cost spacecraft have failed since launch. Regardless, that makes SpaceX the single largest satellite operator in the world, and it has plans for many, many more launches. SpaceX has approval to launch 12,000 internet satellites, but it has asked for permission to boost that number by 30,000. These numbers have astronomers worried as large satellite constellations have the potential to interfere with observations of distant objects and phenomena. SpaceX says it’s looking at ways to mitigate the risk, but it’s not slowing down deployments. 

SpaceX has just now decided to launch a public beta test with all those satellites. According to invitations for the “Better Than Nothing” beta, those selected for the test will have to pay $ 500 upfront for the “phased-array terminal” to receive the signal. It comes with a mounting tripod and Wi-Fi router, but the dish (above) is best mounted on your roof. The brackets for that cost another $ 100, but that’s what you’ll have to do if you want to use the service long-term. 

What a SpaceX Starlink satellite looks like in orbit.

The monthly cost is $ 99 for a connection that SpaceX believes will run at 50-150Mbps with latency in the neighborhood of 20-40ms. That’s fast enough for streaming most videos, and it could even be usable for video chat. Most wireline broadband connections are capable of less than 20ms of latency. SpaceX also notes that there will be brief periods of no connectivity at all during the beta, which follows a free testing program that debuted earlier this year. People might be less forgiving of these intermittent issues when they’re paying $ 100 for the service, and calling it “Better Than Nothing” won’t prevent that. 

Currently, all testing is confined to the northern US, but CEO Elon Musk has discussed expanding the program into southern Canada. The company has promised near-global coverage by 2021, which seems perhaps a little generous. Still, the beta is a step in the right direction.

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Starlink Satellites Ruin NEOWISE Comet Photo

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Earlier this year, NASA discovered a new comet with its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope. The object, casually known as NEOWISE, has been closer to Earth this month than at any point in the last 6,000 years. Astronomers and photographers have been looking skyward to observe the comet, but one astrophotographer got a nasty surprise when Starlink satellites photobombed an otherwise excellent time-lapse photo. 

NEOWISE is what’s known as a long period comet — it has a highly eccentric orbit that takes it deep into the outer solar system over thousands of years before it swings back toward the sun (and Earth). Astronomers believe the nucleus of NEOWISE is roughly three miles (5 kilometers) in diameter. For most of July, the comet has been less than 200 million miles from Earth, which is close enough to see with the naked eye in isolated areas. In urban settings, you need binoculars or a telescope to spot the comet. 

Astrophotographer Daniel Lopez recently set up his equipment in Teide National Park on the Canary Islands to snap a time-lapse image of NEOWISE. The final image, which features 17 separate frames captured over 30 seconds is marred by streaks of light from SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites. 

VisorSat is supposed to stop exactly this sort of thing from happening. If it works.

Elon Musk dreams of providing satellite internet access around the world with this mega-constellation of satellites. There are already more than 500 of them in orbit, but the company’s plans call for thousands. To avoid the horrendous lag endemic in previous satellite internet systems, Starlink satellites remain in lower orbits. That also makes them more visible. For example, Starlink satellites ruined observations of the Magellanic Clouds at the CTIO observatory in Chile. 

SpaceX has promised to address the high reflectivity of its satellite network with a system called VisorSat—essentially, fins that shield the shiny surface of the satellites from sunlight. SpaceX began testing VisorSat on satellites launched in April, but it’s unclear how well they work, and regardless, SpaceX is launching new satellites every few weeks. If VisorSat isn’t perfect, there could be a lot more ruined photos in the future. Musk claims that Starlink won’t have a substantial impact on astronomy even when there are thousands of satellites. Although, he does have a tendency to overpromise.

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Earth Imaging Satellites Will Hitch a Ride on Upcoming SpaceX Starlink Launches

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Satellite imaging startup Planet closed a deal to buy Google’s SkySat network in 2017, but it’s not stopping with the existing constellation. Planet aims to become the fastest satellite imaging firm thanks to a new deal with SpaceX. Planet will squeeze some of its satellites into some upcoming Starlink launches, giving customers access to fresher imagery. 

When Planet purchased the constellation from Google, there were 15 individual satellites orbiting at an altitude of 500 kilometers (about 310 miles). The company recently lowered the altitude to 450 kilometers. That might not sound like it would make a major difference, but it increased the effective resolution of the images from 80cm per pixel to 50cm per pixel. That’s the difference between seeing blobs traveling down the road and being able to differentiate between cars and trucks. 

Boosting image clarity is only part of the plan — Planet also wants faster updates. Many of its customers in forestry, agriculture, and technology want the most up-to-date images possible, and you can only get that by putting more satellites in orbit. Even small satellite launches used to be hideously expensive, but that’s changed with SpaceX’s frequent Starlink missions with reused rockets. 

Each one of Planet’s satellites is roughly the size of a washing machine and weighs 110kg (about 242 pounds), and it’s currently gearing up to add three of them to the next Falcon 9 Starlink payload. SpaceX has completed eight Starlink launches so far, most of which carry 60 individual satellites. It’ll be a tight fit, but there’s more space inside that fairing than you’d probably expect. SpaceX just shared a video (above) of the fairing deploying on its most recent Starlink mission. 

SpaceX will need a lot of rockets to get its proposed 12,000-node Starlink constellation. Realizing this, the company set up a “rideshare” program, allowing it to work directly with small satellite operators to use every bit of space on upcoming launches. At $ 500 per kilogram, the price is low enough that Planet decided to deploy more satellites — expanding its fleet wasn’t even on the table before the rideshare program. 

The first set of three will go up in a few days, and another three are scheduled for July. Activists painted “Black Lives Matter” on a street leading up to the White House last week, and Planet captured a widely seen image of it just hours later. With a total of 21 satellites, Planet will be even quicker to snap such images.

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SpaceX Launches 60 More Starlink Satellites

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SpaceX is fresh of its historic crewed launch that sent astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS), but it’s not taking any time off to celebrate. The company has just launched yet another batch of Starlink internet satellites, and it did so with one of the “most reused” rockets in history. 

SpaceX has been successfully recovering Falcon 9 boosters for several years, allowing it to lower the cost of launches. While the NASA launch over the weekend relied on a shiny new Falcon 9 (complete with NASA worm logo), the most recent Starlink mission used a sooty refurbished rocket. The core (B1049) has survived four previous launches; two Starlink launches, a mission to deploy the Telstar 18V communication satellite, and a load of Iridium NEXT satellites. The satellites reached orbit as planned, and the booster landed safely on the drone ship once again.

SpaceX is already the single largest satellite operator in the world, and the network will grow considerably over the next few years. It has approval to put 12,000 satellites in orbit, but it may eventually get permission to launch more. As with past Starlink launches, this mission deployed 60 new satellites to SpaceX’s mega-constellation. That brings us to 482 active satellites, which is more than the 400 satellites CEO Elon Musk predicted the company would need for basic internet services in select regions. Moderate coverage will require about 800 nodes. 

The Starlink constellation will mostly operate in low-Earth orbit, but some will remain in very-low Earth orbit (VLEO) to improve latency. Existing satellite internet connections can have a latency of several seconds, which makes real-time web applications impossible. SpaceX says Starlink, which will operate in the Ka and Ku bands, could offer latency as low as 15ms. That’s low even for terrestrial wired broadband. 

Astronomers have expressed concern over the effect all these satellites will have on observations of the sky. In early 2020, a team from the CTIO observatory in Chile lost 15-20 percent of the data from an image of the Magellanic Clouds. SpaceX’s solution is a system called VisorSat, which consists of small fins that deploy on the satellites to block sunlight from reflecting down to Earth. Today’s launch was the first to use VisorSat, but it will take time to find out how well it works.

Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the booster wasn’t recovered. We have updated the article and regret the error.

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SpaceX Will Test ‘VisorSat’ System to Make Starlink Satellites Invisible

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SpaceX is already the world’s largest single satellite operator with more than 400 of its Starlink internet nodes zipping around the Earth, but that’s only the start. The company hopes to have a fleet of thousands of satellites in just a few years, and that has astronomers worried. We’ve already seen these clouds of manmade material interfere with observations, and the problem will only get worse. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has promised to mitigate the astronomical interference caused by the Starlink Constellation, and now we’ve got more information about the company’s “VisorSat” solution. 

Satellite internet already exists, but bandwidth and latency are inferior to what you can get with any modern terrestrial solution. This has made satellite internet a last resort for those with no other connectivity options. Key to SpaceX’s approach is the massive size of its fleet, which will provide higher bandwidth to users on the ground. Some of the Starlink constellation will also orbit at very low altitudes to cut down on latency. All this means the probes are more likely to show up in astronomical observations, some of which have to remain focused on the same patch of sky for hours at a time. In one incident from early 2020, a team from the CTIO observatory in Chile lost 15-20 percent of the data from an image of the Magellanic Clouds. 

The solution, apparently, is a system SpaceX has dubbed VisorSat. Once in orbit, the satellites would deploy small fins to block sunlight from hitting the reflective antennas and bouncing down to Earth. Musk says this should make the probes invisible to the naked eye and minimize the impact on astronomy. The company will also change the way the satellites orient themselves while moving into higher orbits after launch, which is when they are most visible. 

SpaceX launches 60 Starlink satellites with a single Falcon 9 rocket.

Previously, SpaceX experimented with treating materials to make them less reflective, and that showed promise in early testing. However, Musk says he believes VisorSat will be more effective. SpaceX intends to test VisorSat on the next Starlink launch, which could happen in the next few weeks. SpaceX has been launching batches of 60 satellites about once per month this year. 

If VisorSat works as intended, all future Starlink satellites will include the technology. SpaceX designed the satellites to be cheap with an expected lifespan of three or four years. That means the company can replace the current 400-strong fleet with less reflective satellites little by little as they fail and deorbit.

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2020 Subaru Legacy Tech Dive: EyeSight, DriverFocus, Starlink Shine

The 2020 Subaru Legacy is a near-perfect car if you’re looking for solid transportation and extensive safety technology across all trim lines. Every Legacy has all-wheel-drive, and enough driver-assist technology to be virtually self-driving on highways while protecting pedestrians in town (called Subaru EyeSight), track and alert inattentive drivers (DriverFocus), and call for help in an accident (Subaru Starlink).

The new, 2020 seventh-generation Legacy also has front cupholders deep enough to not spill a 32-ounce Big Gulp, were the car capable of a 4-second 0-60 run (it’s more like 7 to 9 seconds, depending on the engine). The engine’s “boxer” technology, similar to what Porsche uses, lowers the car’s center of gravity. The front and back rows are spacious and the trunk is enormous. Highway mileage is in the upper thirties.

So what’s not to like? Not much. This Subie won’t move the excitement needle quite like Mazda or Honda does among midsize sedans. It’s not as dazzling as the 2020 Hyundai Sonata. There’s less ground clearance than the similar Subaru Outback crossover. The new infotainment system and navigation had a few quirks, the kind a firmware upgrade typically cures, and stop-start twisted the steering wheel and my thumb a couple of times (more below).

The Nappa leather cockpit of the 2020 Subaru legacy.

The Car for Inattentive Drivers?

You say you’re a good driver; I say I’m a good driver. Yet surveys find the majority of Americans self-describe themselves as above-average drivers, which is statistically impossible. And yet, we also know people close to us whose driving skills or cognition worry us: teenagers and others in their first few years of driving, aging parents, a spouse or partner who’s had a couple of fender-benders that were the fault of “the other guy,” and people who text or create on-the-fly playlists even when they know it’s unsafe.

Subaru is a leader among automakers in making virtually all its safety technology standard across every one of the six trim lines, or model variants, of this new 2020 car. Buy any Legacy Base, Premium, Sport, Limited, Limited XT, or Touring XT and you get:

  • A dual front-facing camera system, Subaru EyeSight, to keep you in your driving lane, warn of / brake for possible forward collisions, detect and brake for pedestrians at speeds up to 20 mph.
  • Full-range adaptive cruise control as part of EyeSight.
  • An active driving assistance system that controls speed and lane centering, pacing any car in front of you, also part of EyeSight.
  • LED low and high-beam headlamps with automatic high-beam control.
  • All-wheel-drive for extra grip in snow or rain, or on gravel roads.

Any Legacy other than the base model has safety telematics (called Subaru Starlink) standard. Blind-spot warning is available, optional on two trim lines and standard on three; it also includes rear cross-traffic alert and automatic braking while backing up. An excellent eye-tracking driver distraction system, DriverFocus, is standard on the top two trim lines and optional on a third.

One feature not offered is a surround-view camera array that primarily improves tight-spaces parking, but it also protects you (if you watch the screen) from running into kids’ tricycles or kids on tricycles. Rear auto-braking provides that protection.

With the 260-hp turbo engine (top two trim lines only), you’ll hit 60 in 6-7 seconds. Add 2 seconds for the 182 hp engine on other Legacies.

Legacy on the Road: Mostly Smooth Sailing

I drove the top-of-the-line 2020 Subaru Legacy Touring XT, about $ 37,000 including shipping, with warm brown Nappa leather, moonroof, an 11-inch portrait-orientation center stack LCD, vented front seats, heated fronts and rears, onboard navigation, and immense amounts of back-seat legroom and trunk room.

Subaru lie-flat boxer engine: two cylinders go left, two cylinders go right.

With the new, 2.4-liter turbo engine of 260 hp and continuously variable transmission on the Limited and Touring XTs, it was quick, hitting 60 mph in 6-7 seconds. Highway miles went by quickly. Under foot-down acceleration, there wasn’t much noise from the CVT transmission; some testers have noted it on the non-turbo Legacy that has to be pushed harder to get up to highway speeds.

Most four-cylinder-engine cars have an inline design. Most Subarus including the Legacy have horizontally opposed, flat or boxer engines. They are effectively V engines where the angle is 180 degrees, not the 60 or 90 degrees of V6 or V8 engines. The engine is more compact, has less inherent vibration, gives the car a lower center of gravity, and allows for a lower hood and better driver sightlines. Against that, the engine requires two cylinder heads. Porsche also uses flat-six engines in the 911, Cayman, Spyder, and Boxster. The term boxer alludes not to the small crate it fits in, but rather the in-out motion of the two adjacent pistons that looks like a boxer’s fists.

Where most automakers use a combination of radar and a camera for driver assists, Subaru’s Eyesight system uses stereoscopic cameras. It’s standard on the 2020 Legacy, Forester, Outback, and Ascent; and available on the Impreza, Crosstrek, and WRX.

Pedestrian Detection Saves Another Jaywalker

Highway driving was enjoyable with the driver assists, a nicely sound-insulated cabin, very good Harman Kardon premium audio, Wi-Fi on Starlink telematics cars, and USB jacks for four people. In town, the driver assists work well; a jaywalker who popped out mid-block was picked up and the car came to a quick (sudden) stop. But spirited back-roads driving was not as much fun as some other cars in its class, notably the Mazda6 and Honda Accord. The 2020 Subaru Legacy is based on the same new platform as the 2020 Subaru Outback crossover-almost-wagon. But the Legacy’s ground clearance is 5.9 inches to 8.7 inches for the Outback. So the Legacy is fine in the rain, snow, and on gravel roads, but not the first choice in Subarus if the road to your country cabin is deeply rutted.

Subaru has rudimentary self-driving capabilities utilizing EyeSight, although Subaru doesn’t consider it to be formal self-drive tech and has no Eye-something shorthand name such as, say, EyeDrive. (BMW might not be amused.) Once activated, it centers you on a highway and proceeds at a pre-set speed, slowing for cars in front of you. It combines Subaru’s Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control feature with Lane Centering. As with other vehicles, activation is a multi-step process.

DriverFocus, on upper trim lines, combines a camera and infrared illuminator. It watches to see if the driver’s eyes are on the road ahead.

DriverFocus: Big Brother Is on Your Side

Take your eyes off the road, and the DriverFocus eye-tracker tells you to pay attention.

Subaru DriverFocus, an eyebrow module at the top of the center stack, contains a camera and IR illuminator to track where the driver is looking, and rats you out after 10-15 seconds of not looking ahead. GM’s highly regarded Super Cruise self-driving technology uses eye-tracking also.

Some driver-attention monitors count the micro-movements a driver continually makes as he or she drives.

I had two concerns with my test car: I was startled a couple of times by the gas-saving stop-start system. Occasionally as the engine came to a stop at a traffic light, the steering wheel on my test car abruptly turned a couple of inches and twice caught my thumb that was loosely holding the wheel next to the spoke. After the second time, I decided to keep my thumbs off the thumb grips once this car stopped at a light.

The infotainment system had trouble parsing some spoken commands, wanted to drive me to the intersecting street with the same name plus “Extension” at the end, and occasionally would not connect an iPhone using two different Apple cables or with Bluetooth. On sunny days, the LCD was sometimes hard to read and the brushed chrome-look trim strip around the center display reflected the sun’s glare.

The Subaru Legacy instrument panel. The center multi-information looks busy. (It is.) But it also gives the driver lots of information at a glance. If this feels like TMI, you can flip to simpler views.

EyeSight Is Improved, Still Unique

Subaru says EyeSight has been improved and I sensed that both in the ability to pick up a car ahead from a greater distance and to be less affected in the rain. In some ways, EyeSight in snowy conditions may be better than radar in that windshield wipers clear the paths in front of the two cameras. If snow blocks the radar sensor, you have to get out and scrape it off with a brush or your gloved hand, assuming the driver knows where the sensor is located in the grille. Also, snow and rain reduce the effectiveness of radar to some degree.

Subaru Legacy Touring XT, the top trim line.

Safety Features Abound

Even if you are a statistically good driver, a car such as the Legacy improves your odds of staying safe. It also improves pedestrians’ odds: A 2019 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found Eyesight-equipped Subarus reduce pedestrian-injury claims by 35 percent. IIHS also found Subarus with second-generation Eyesight did better than first-generation systems dating to 2010. IIHS said it found no significant self-selection bias, meaning the idea that safety-conscious good drivers might seek out safe-seeming Subarus and Volvos. Separately, IIHS found Subarus with EyeSight had up fewer rear-end collisions and passenger injuries.

How solid is Subaru on driver assists and safety technology? Here’s a rundown:

2020 Subaru Legacy Key Safety Technology, Driver Assists

Trim lines: Entry Middle Top
Lane departure warning Std Std Std
Lane-keeping assist Std Std Std
Lane centering assist Std Std Std
Blind-spot warning $ / Std Std
Adaptive cruise control Std Std Std
Forward collision warning Std Std Std
Auto emergency braking Std Std Std
Pedestrian detection/braking Std Std Std
Safety telematics (Starlink) Std Std
Driver-assist package (EyeSight) Std Std Std
Driver monitoring (DriverFocus) — / $ / Std Std
Active driving assistance Std Std Std
The table shows features as standard (Std), optional ($ ) or not available (–) on entry (Legacy base), middle (Premium, Sport, Limited, Limited XT) and top (Touring XT) trim lines.

Should You Buy?

The 2020 Subaru Legacy is a solid midsize car for people who don’t need a status symbol. The Legacy wins a lot of awards but not all of them. Consumer Reports has it as the best midsize sedan and one of only 10 CR Top Picks among 300 models for 2020. In contrast, Car and Driver put the Legacy eighth behind the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, and the Mazda Mazda6, among others. Guess which publication favors safety features and comfortable ride versus spirited handling? The Legacy is also a 2020 IIHS Top Safety Pick+, which means good ratings in crash tests, advanced or superior ratings in available front crash prevention, and (the plus part) acceptable or good headlamps standard.

We like the Legacy a lot, even if within Subaru this is an outlier, a sedan in a company known for outdoorsy crossovers and SUVs: Crosstrek, Forester, Outback, Ascent. The Ascent had arguably been the best midsize SUV until the Kia Telluride / Hyundai Palisade came along last year. The Legacy had been unique in offering all-wheel-drive, but the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry added it for 2020.

The steering wheel has big buttons and rockers, all legibly labeled. If only all cars were this clear with switchgear.

Subaru is a relatively reliable brand. The car is eminently practical. From the side, though, it’s hard to distinguish from a half-dozen other brands. Fuel economy is good, an EPA combined rating of 23 mpg for the turbo models, 29 mpg for the non-turbo. Real-world mileage should be several mpg higher, and with judicious driving, the non-turbo could approach 40 on the highway.

If you’re shopping Subaru for max safety, we’d suggest: Move past the Legacy base ($ 23,645 with freight) because you can’t get blind-spot warning / rear-cross-traffic alert or safety telematics, and past the Legacy Premium ($ 25,895) because you can get BSW / RCTA, but not reverse automatic braking (RAB). Blind-spot warning matters: Not all young drivers know to check side mirrors and look over their shoulders; older drivers may know, but may not have the dexterity to turn their heads sideways.

Every Legacy has dual front USB jacks (above) and, except for the base model (below), two more jacks in the back. Note how every jack and switch is nicely and legibly lettered.

The Legacy Sport ($ 27,845) lets you get BSW-RCTA-RAB in a $ 2,245 options package, along with a power moonroof and onboard navigation, for $ 30,090 total. Or for $ 30,645, you can get the Legacy Limited that includes BSW-RCTA-RAB, and the one options package, $ 2,045, gives you the moonroof again, a heated steering wheel, and DriverFocus. The top two trim lines, the Limited XT ($ 35,095) and Touring XT ($ 36,795), give you nice and nicer leather, DriverFocus, and the moonroof. So the sweet spot may be the Legacy Sport plus the options package, or the Legacy Limited, at about $ 30K each. Cross-brand shoppers comparing front-drive-only midsize competitors should attribute about $ 1,500 of Subaru’s price to AWD.

The Subaru Legacy should be at the top of your consideration set along with the Hyundai Sonata, the ExtremeTech 2020 Car of the Year. If you want a sporty car, look to the Mazda6, the Honda Accord, or – this is not a joke – the segment best-seller Toyota Camry with the TRD Sport, as in Toyota Racing Division.

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