back to article Roses are red, Ajit Pai is tickled. Broadband from SpaceX gets him out of a pickle

SpaceX's plans to become a global ISP took a big step forward after Ajit Pai – the boss of America's comms watchdog, the FCC – gave his blessing for Elon Musk's biz to pop broadband-beaming satellites into orbit. The rocketry upstart wants to build a network of low-Earth orbit birds named Starlink that will provide high-speed …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For a bit of context on the scale, the full plan for this constellation puts the number of satellites at about 4,000. The number of satellites (including the broken ones) currently orbiting the earth is about 4,000.

    So of course initially it sounds insane, but satellites are getting much smaller and launches getting much cheaper. 2017 saw 50% more objects launched than any previous year. With growth like that, those numbers really aren't that insane. And even if the costs end up being 10, 20 or 30Bn, if that gives you a global, gigabit-class network, surely that's cheap?

    What might be insane is the claim of 25ms latency and cable-equivalent upstream bandwidth. I'll believe that one when I see it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "currently orbiting the earth is about 4,000"

      Ad it's already enough crowded that way, with enough space junk which is increasing risks. Space is a shared resource - a single company can't litter it with all its junk.

      I think when there are "ground" alternatives, they are better - your fiber cable won't be disturbed by bad weather.

      1. Robert Heffernan

        Re: "currently orbiting the earth is about 4,000"

        "I think when there are 'ground' alternatives, they are better - your fiber cable won't be disturbed by bad weather."

        While fiber is the best option, good luck getting it rolled out. The Australian NBN developed a case of "too expensive" thanks to the government.

        AT&T, Comcast, etc wouldn't roll out new fibre even if they were paid to (and they we're, they pocketed the cash and ran)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "currently orbiting the earth is about 4,000"

          Sorry for you, our government is actually rolling out fiber in market failure areas. Population coverage of about 90% is planned for 2020. The remaining on high-speed, ground based radio links.

    2. Christoph Silver badge

      If a single company doubles the number of satellites, and presumably has them all in similar orbits, what does that do to the chance of triggering Kessler syndrome?

      And what compensation will other countries be able to claim when that company has made a whole range of orbits unusable for thousands of years?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "If a single company doubles the number of satellites, and presumably has them all in similar orbits, what does that do to the chance of triggering Kessler syndrome?"

        Excellent question, and it's a mixed answer. Out at 1000km, where some of the satellites would have to operate, the chances would be quite high. Orbital decay at that altitude is on the order of a millennium. The bulk of the satellites would (in theory) orbit at about 350km, some 50km lower than even the ISS. That gives a time before orbital decay of about a single year. So that lower constellation would, to some extent, be self-cleaning. Which is neat.

        The outer constellation would definitely be a concern, but if you've come up with a satellite bus and launch mechanism so cheap you can sling 4500 of them out there, the least we should be doing is forcing you to send a space-hoover out there with them.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      LEO satellites don't stay up long so maintenance costs will also be high.

      It would be a cinch for the FCC to get mobile networks to compete more effectively in rural areas and it wouldn't cost that much.

      This basically more PR from Musk.

  2. Terafirma-NZ

    um... who gave the Comcast rep from America control over the whole of space.

    Surely they have had to get approval from other countries or it orbit one of those first in based "international waters" type systems.

    Mines the rocket with de-orbiting missiles attached to clear the way for my own new satellite network.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Surely they have had to get approval from other countries or it orbit one of those first in based "international waters" type systems."

      I'm guessing that they use directional beams and can turn on and off as required when over the relevant areas of interest. Once the full constellation is up, it will take some serious management though.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      the Comcast rep from America

      Verizon takes exception to that. Comcast can buy their own commissioner.

  3. JJKing Silver badge

    When does enough become a problem?

    I am curious as to how many bits of orbiting metal does it take before launching becomes a iffy business? At some stage these 4,000 (plus the 4,000 not working) deorbit and make shooting through this slowing cluster into LOE dangerous. A collision is only going to make this real bad.

    1. stevo42

      Re: When does enough become a problem?

      These ones will be in low orbit - so won't be affected by anything already up there. If you read the specs for them, they had to demonstrate end of life de-orbiting process - everything going up into space now has to have a plan for countering space junk

      1. Usermane

        Re: When does enough become a problem?

        Is another job for Mario Ruiz and Ted Long.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: When does enough become a problem?

      "I am curious as to how many bits of orbiting metal does it take before launching becomes a iffy business? At some stage these 4,000 (plus the 4,000 not working) deorbit and make shooting through this slowing cluster into LOE dangerous. A collision is only going to make this real bad."

      Also worth remembering that "Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." and all those representations you see showing the satellite orbits around earth are massively out of scale so that the satellites actually show up in the animation. The vast majority of orbital space around the Earth is near as dammit empty. Of course, testing out anti-satellite missiles on actual satellites significantly adds to the number of objects up there and you really don't want too many more collisions.

  4. Griffo

    KU Band?

    Isn't KU band the one that stops working every time it rains?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: KU Band?

      Most microwave bands suffer reduced propagation in times of rain and snow.

      Satellite broadcast is affected when the snow is heavy, gets on the dish or lnb.

      Satellite internet also suffers under severe weather conditions.

      1. Stephen May

        Re: KU Band?

        Ku band does get affected, we compensate by having Automatic Uplink Power Control and having a bit of margin in the link budget. Ka-band is the one that REALLY gets hit by rain fade.

  5. JaitcH
    WTF?

    How Come The USA Thinks It Owns All The Slots In Space?

    WHAT WILL HAPPEN when countries other than the USA decide that they, too, want to fly 4,425 satellites around, such as China, India, Mongolia or Russia?

    And who will determine who has 'rights' to a particular slot in the heavens?

    Nor is the US Government is to be trusted - which is why there are now four GPS systems - and it determines the penultimate operation of such a system through it's licencing terms.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: How Come The USA Thinks It Owns All The Slots In Space?

      Who put GPS up there in the first place?

      What was its purpose?

      Do you watch weather forecasts? own a phone? drive using SatNav? etc.

      ONLY SATELLITES FOR THE RIGHT PEOPLE!! eh?

      1. Commswonk Silver badge

        Re: How Come The USA Thinks It Owns All The Slots In Space?

        Come on now... do you really need someone else to answer that question for you?

        1. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

          Re: How Come The USA Thinks It Owns All The Slots In Space?

          Of course Trumpistan owns space, they got there first (other versions of history are Fake News).

      2. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: How Come The USA Thinks It Owns All The Slots In Space?

        "Do you watch weather forecasts? own a phone? drive using SatNav? etc."

        Well, pretty much every country with a launch capability, and some of the ones without have launched weather sats (here's a list), so that's international.

        Phone calls that are routed via satellite rather than cables will be going through commercial satellites, some of which are US owned/built/launched, but quite a lot aren't.

        Pretty much every sat-nav system from the last five years can use a variety of different positioning systems (GPS, GLONASS, BEIDOU, QZSS, SBAS, GALILEO etc.) because fortunately they all use pretty similar frequency ranges (I suspect this is dictated by physics).

        So no. None of your examples are exclusively US centric.

    2. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge

      Re: How Come The USA Thinks It Owns All The Slots In Space?

      "And who will determine who has 'rights' to a particular slot in the heavens?"

      In all odds, we'll probably see a continuation of the first-come first-serve system. Unless we somehow end up with a Global Space Agency, that's pretty much the only way anything's going to work out.

  6. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    A last poem...

    Roses are reddish

    Violets are blueish

    If it wasn't for Christmas.

    We'd all be Jewish....

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: A last poem...

      Nah, check your history: we'd all still be pantheists and fighting wars about something other than religion.

  7. DougS Silver badge

    Doubtful it'll happen

    Within five years high speed fixed wireless broadband will roughly 100% of the population able to afford Musk's satellite broadband. In ten years it'll cover anywhere on Earth you can get a cell signal.

    While there's a market for connectivity in the places that don't, it isn't enough to make this project feasible. A decade ago it made sense, but it would be a huge money loser if you tried something like that today.

    1. Commswonk Silver badge

      Re: Doubtful it'll happen

      Within five years high speed fixed wireless broadband will roughly 100% of the population able to afford Musk's satellite broadband.

      Not Captain compute does.

  8. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    well -- for *some* of us.

    Personally, with all the sh*t that keeps happening around the world, political and non-political, and given my age, were I to acquire sufficient funds, I'd be inclined to buy a hull of sufficient length and beam that I could live on until the ticker decides to quit. And having a contiguous global internet provider that did not require a physical connection or a tower within 2 miles would work rather well for me at that point.

    Finding the right mast would be a separate operation in my books. I've a friend who does 24' racing in the lake, and they're currently arguing with the vendor about the POS they got from them last year. They've a picture of their current mast under load that makes me wonder *when* I'll hear about them being hauled back to shore on a rescue craft. Hopefully that gets sorted before this years re-step.

    The idea of being out in the middle of an ocean and not having to deal with the bulk of humanity is looking better every single day.

  9. David Roberts Silver badge
    Unhappy

    That cover photo

    Please tell me that it was photoshopped.

  10. Sureo

    "...provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans..."

    Wait ... with 12000 satellites, couldn't they task a few for the rest of us poor folk?

  11. godanov

    "Musketeers"

    that so funny and I had been trying to think of a way to address them all at the same time

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