59 out of 60
If only one of the 60 satellites fails then that is still over a 98% success rate. Hardly a major problem.
The first upgraded batch of Starlink satellites were launched by SpaceX today, marking the fourth reuse of a Falcon 9 booster and the first of a payload fairing. While there is every possibility the booster could be used again, the fairing halves met a watery end after the company elected to cancel a further recovery attempt …
This is part of the design: all satellites including the defective ones (and currently there are 3 from the previous launch, plus the one mentioned from today's) get deployed into an unstable orbit at 280km, which will eventually naturally decay and burn up. If the satellite is healthy, it uses ion thrusters to raise itself into a higher orbit (current batch go to 550km).
Of the first batch of 60, 2 were designed to test deorbit plans, 3 are DoA (so will test deorbit of a dead satellite), 5 are still climbing and 45 are on station.
The lifecycle model of these satellites has taken a leaf from Google: if it's faulty, junk and replace it. What that means is that once the constellation is complete, SpaceX anticipates a launch every week to replenish the fleet (actually, it's a "Starship" launch every 3 weeks or so, but the point remains that the commitment is staggering).
What is less well understood is that the economics of Starlink are exactly the reverse of the "obvious": it's not the low cost of the reused SpaceX launch vehicles that makes Starlink possible, but rather it's the revenue stream of Starlink that will make SpaceX's other plans (Starship, Mars, etc) possible.
[ Think about it: if someone like INMARSAT can make money off their service even with the cost of the bespoke satellite and heavy-lift launch, hundreds or thousands of mass-produced birds launched on much cheaper boosters offering much better user-level service will be in clover! ]
The complaints from the astronomers are valid, in much the same way that horse riders have legitimate gripes against motorists. At the end of the day, though, terrestrial astronomy is only a good option because of the lack of orbiting telescopes. If there were a dozen Hubble's, astronomers would find tasking for them all (ditto the James Webb Telescope, but it's not an orbital instrument).
Personally, I wonder if Starlink will deliver gigabit to my rural England house before Open Reach?
[ Also: I wouldn't invest in submarine cable ventures... ]
"terrestrial astronomy is only a good option because of the lack of orbiting telescopes. If there were a dozen Hubble's"
Not any more. Orbital telescopes are now obsolete except for niche uses.
Thirty Metre Telescope:
"This system will produce diffraction-limited images over a 30-arc-second diameter field-of-view, which means that the core of the point spread function will have a size of 0.015 arc-second at a wavelength of 2.2 micrometers, almost ten times better than the Hubble Space Telescope"
(somewhat over one billion USD)
Giant Magellan Telescope:
"The telescope is expected to have a resolving power 10 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope"
(about one billion USD)
(European) Extremely Large Telescope (name shortened a while ago):
"It has around 256 times the light gathering area of the Hubble Space Telescope and, according to the ELT's specifications, would provide images 16 times sharper than those from Hubble"
(a bit over one billion euros)
James Webb Space Telescope:
Originally supposed to launch in 2007 costing half a billion USD.
Now estimated to cost 9.66 billion if it launches in 2021.
Add in the ability to repair and upgrade the ground based telescopes leading to a much longer useful life.
If you don't really really need to be in space because of atmospheric absorption of some frequencies or a need to watch something 24 hours a day from one telescope,it is clear that you can build much better telescopes for a lot less money here on earth.
"(ditto the James Webb Telescope, but it's not an orbital instrument)"
Well, it is not orbiting the earth much, but it is orbiting the sun, at a distance chosen to keep it in the earth's shadow. It is orbiting the earth in that its path is changed by earth's gravity, which is why it can have the same orbital period as the earth while being farther from the sun. Thus it does go around the earth once a year.
"If you don't really really need to be in space because of atmospheric absorption of some frequencies or a need to watch something 24 hours a day from one telescope,it is clear that you can build much better telescopes for a lot less money here on earth."
That's always been the case which is why there are few optical or radio telescopes in space. Even the most famous 'optical' Hubble wouldn't work on Earth because of its instrumentation.
"Not any more. Orbital telescopes are now obsolete except for niche uses."
The big thing going against orbital scopes was cost and a big part of what drives that is launch fees. if it's cheap to launch 'em then you can afford to throw more up there. NASA has at least 3 complete KH11s given to them by the NRO that could be repurposed as observational scopes _IF_ there was a cheap way to get them to orbit and there are a bunch of advantages of having some smaller orbiting scopes out of the atmosphere. Those big ground scopes are heavily oversubscribed, with 2-5 year waiting lists, etc.
On the other side, a science payload doesn't cost 2 billion quid. The 500 prototypes and 3 million man-hours labour does. If you make 2 flight articles or 20 flight articles it _still_ costs about the same (or if the launch costs are cheaper, you might only make 30 prototypes and afford losing it because you can send up another couple of iterations). Cheap launches change the entire dynamics of science missions.
Starting at 280km and boosting to 550km is a good idea to stop DOA stuff lasting decades, but my concern is the plan for thousands of satellites to be boosted to 1150km where debris will last millennia.
Once up there the inevitable failures are a serious concern to the future use of space.
"TARGET PRACTICE" is the stupidest idea possible: if you are concerned about orbital debris, blowing up one 500lb thing that can be tracked into thousands of smaller things that can't.
Still, it's about as dumb an idea as the Space Force itself, so we can't count it out.
[ "Space Force" is a dumb idea because the USAF already has a Space Command, and making a separate service with separate HQ's, uniforms, ranks, etc. is just adding freakin' cost ].
I think you fail to grasp the different types of weapons and options of how to have 'target practice'.
I get your point about not wanting to create FOD but you lose points due to a lack of imagination.
There are other things you could do beside point something at it to blow it up that would still constitute target practice.
Speaking as an American [as in citizen of the USA] I think the plan is to make the Space Force happen in the same fashion that the Air Force itself came about, as the US Army Air Corp being split off into a separate branch of the Armed Forces.
In similar fashion the Space Force will become the branch responsible for the activities currently the responsibility of the USAF Space Command and will be staffed by the personnel currently in the Space Command through the same sort of commissioning process as that which the US Air Force itself underwent when it was split off from the US Army.
blowing up one 500lb thing that can be tracked into thousands of smaller things that can't
But hey - it's a useful planetary shield for when the aliens turn up and try to invade. When they start losing landing craft to collisions maybe they'll think we were clever enough to plan it all and leave us alone..
(Mind you, 30 minutes of watching our vapid TV would pretty much convince them of the opposite. And, if they can tap into the Internet, 5 minutes would suffice)
Except it would also stop us sending out a retaliatory mission or one to degrade their capacity to try it again. In addition we would be unable to stop them colonising the rest of ‘our’ solar system and just flinging asteroids at us faster than we can nudge them into the sun.
As various SciFi authors have pointed out, fling a big enough asteroid into an ocean basin and the tsunami will take out most of the major cities surrounding it. I grew up in NZ and the first house my wife and I bought was down by the beach on a former salt marsh where they have to pump the sewage and rainwater out. There was a loudspeaker on a pole at the end of the street which was our tsunami warning system. They tested it every year so we all knew what it sounded like.
Inside the back of the phone book in NZ there’s the local civil defence stuff. We had how far we had to move DIRECTLY away from the beach to be safe (which was still on the flat just short of a nice steep hill, would we stop? not on your nelly). My sister and her family used to live in the Lahar evacuation zone for the Taranaki volcano. Auckland, the biggest city straddles a probably still active volcanic zone. Rangitoto island in the harbour rose out of the sea about 1200ACE, a blink in geological time. Extinct cones stud the landscape. We cannot tell where the next hotspot might come up. Imagine a volcanic cone arising in say Wimbledon and you get the idea.
Agreed, but the alternative is another government-funded space program and, to do so, more taxes because NASA is already rolling on three wheels instead of the six it would need to actually get things done.
So, the future of space is Capitalism, and that means profit. I don't like it either, but that's where we're going.
Think for a few moments: 1) The orbital PLANES (remember it's 3D up there) are HUGE. There are 9 Billion people here on the Earth's surface, about the same size as one of these sats, and we barely ever see one (joke) so I don't think a few thousand small sats are going to be more than a pin drop, and 2) The ESA had to move it's sats TWENTY EIGHT times in 2018 to protect some imaginary "exclusion" zone. The press never covered even ONE of those movements. Why do you suppose el Reg and others keep mentioning and ridiculing StarLink for this one movement?
Internet service is (currently) one of the most profitable industries on earth. The fat, cushy, regulated fees and charges and prices and MONEY the semi-monopolies charge for this service is hugely threatened by StarLink. The incumbents have billions to protect their safety with the press and governments. I believe they even have astronomers up in a lather about space clutter (space is HUGE.) I refer you back to point 1.
Some of the coverage of StarLink represents the real reason the term "fake news" was invented (long before Donald Trump.) I feel you should be VERY skeptical of this coverage. Waddaya think?
about 'orbital planes' - depending on orbit shape and a few other factors, they're not all that big after all. If you don't have a bunch of well controlled and well positioned satellites all going the same direction and speed [which is only gonna happen if it's geosynch, more or less] then satellite 'a' will occasionally overtake satellite 'b' and if their paths cross, they potentially collide.
Speed is also related to distance from the earth, and non-circular orbits vary speed. So yeah imperfect orbits and positions create a 'swarm' and collisions are inevitable.
Surface area of Earth: approx 2 x 10**8 square km.
Area of Starlink orbital shell: 2.5 x 10**8 sq. km.
It is quite big.
And if a Starlink competitor wanted a rival constellation, they could orbit it just (say) 200m higher or lower... and miss everything!
Starlink's satellites are designed to avoid other objects, which seems smart!
1. Two hundred metres is not a sufficient separation given the various factors that can change an orbit.
2, 2.5 x 10^8 km^2 is big... but satellites are very very fast, so they get a lot of chances to collide with a lot of things. At the same time, the estimates for orbital debris as of 2013 were 21,000 objects 10 cm or more in size, 500,000 objects from 1 to 10 cm, and millions of pieces smaller than 1 cm. Only the first category can be tracked.
Most of this stuff is effectively invisible, It is also moving at 7 km/sec which is about 8 times the speed of a full power hunting round from a rifle. Thus, it carries 64 times the kinetic energy of such a bullet at the same mass. An impact from the rear cone will reduce the effective energy, while an impact from the front cone will increase it. I'm thinking that a collision at right angles will likely produce 1.4 x 64 times the energy of similar mass at rifle bullet speeds.
Some of those collisions will create debris that sticks around for a while...
Starlink isn't going to threaten the profits of major carriers. It will be viable for out in the sticks where there is poor/no coverage but not in areas where you already have broadband service or will have fixed wireless 5G. There isn't nearly enough bandwidth to threaten incumbents in more densely populated areas.
There are vast areas of the USA where you get what the telco supplies at the rate the telco decides to charge. A lot of them have been double dipping, which is what the whole net neutrality thing is about (in a competitive market neutrality isn't an issue).
Starlink also provides worldwide phone service at a pennies per minute rate as a natural consequence of operation. AND it's an effective competitor to monopoly cablecos too, once up and running in full constellation.
Starlink is set to _force_ these companies to charge a fair rate and stop the other shenanigans or lose no-longer-captive customers. They see it as a direct and material threat and will be lobbying the PUCs in each state to change rules of engagement.
You can expect thing to get extremely nasty at state level in the USA and in a few countries where legislated monopolies still exist. The kickback may result in a lot of US consumers ditching all terrestrial services altogether with the effects in more restrictive countries likely to be "interesting" in a fox in the henhouse sense.
"Starlink isn't going to threaten the profits of major carriers...There isn't nearly enough bandwidth..."
My understanding is that the USP of Starlink is lower latency over transcontinental distances, because light speed through vacuum is faster than through optic fiber and this more than offsets the longer path (and the path is much shorter than other satellites due to the relatively low orbit). Banks and traders pay top dollar to shave even a few microseconds off latency in trade and market information*. If Starlink does indeed work as advertised, SpaceX can demand (and will get) tons of cash without needing a lot of bandwidth.
You are right that it won't threaten incumbents of domestic service in urban areas. The big losers will be those data centres built right next to exchanges, and the links joining these data centres to the undersea cables, because who will need them when the big banks and traders can just have a satellite antenna on their roof?**
The undersea cables themselves will be fine because 'normal' internet traffic is still increasing and will continue to increase.
*I really don't understand how we ended up in a type of economy where this even matters but, hey-ho, here we are!
**Given that banks and traders have been known to spend millions just to move get their trading floor a few hundred metres closer to an exchange, will we start seeing them built Burj-Khalifa-size buildings with trading floors on the top floor to be closer to the satellite network?
My understanding is that the USP of Starlink is lower latency over transcontinental distances, because light speed through vacuum is faster than through optic fiber and this more than offsets the longer path (and the path is much shorter than other satellites due to the relatively low orbit).
Hmm.. Not sure about that, but would require math! So general assumption is in fibre, it's 0.7c due to attenuation. So challenge would be up/downlink path length, distance between Starlink sats, and latency per hop.. Much of which is currently unknown vs terrestrial paths via existing (and planned) cables. Plus there's the bandwidth available, especially given some hi-freak traders generate a lot of volume spoofing/front-running and other nefarious activities.
*I really don't understand how we ended up in a type of economy where this even matters but, hey-ho, here we are!
Come play at casino banking, where reaction time matters! I think it's a combination of the ability to make money fast for both the exchanges and the traders, and given the complexity of the HFT malarky, an inability for legislators to figure out how to regulate it. Or apply transaction taxes and take their slice of the action. I also pity the poor tax auditor who may have to examine a month's trades.. :p
Even if they can offer lower latency with their various overhead than dark fiber between locations for a private link, having reduced latency from NYC to LA is a niche market. 99.999% of use cases don't care about shaving a millisecond or two off that trip.
They need to be profitable as a service for the masses. By offering better connectivity for rural customers they can do that, but they'll be boxed in over time as 5G connectivity expands. Iridium found their niche for phone service was too small once cellular become widespread; offering high speed data is a good niche today but in a decade it will have shrunk quite a bit. Still, I suppose once the infrastructure is in place it is just the cost of launching replacement satellites every 5 years (they apparently have a very short lifespan due to the low orbit) so as long as that's paid for it'll be good for people in extremely remote areas that with poor/no cellular connectivity.
There are 2 groups feeling extremely threatened by Starlink and its ilk.
1: Telcos in de facto or de jure monopoly supply position
2: Governments wanting to censor what people see
You can pass legislation making possession of Starlink equipment in xyz territory a crime but the signal strength and density of the birds means ground kit will be small and highly portable - meaning enforcement will be like pushing water uphill with a rake.
...the signal strength and density of the birds means ground kit will be small and highly portable - meaning enforcement will be like pushing water uphill with a rake.
Not necessarily. So the EU has a bunch of telecommunications regulations that include things like lawful intercept and usage logging. If Starlink can't/won't comply with those regulations and legislation, then the EU could just say the import, sale & use of Starlink terminals is illegal.
And the small & highly portable terminals will be competing with 5G, both at a price point for handsets, and service rates. Where Starlink and their competitors may have an advantage is parts of the world that don't have fixed line or mobile coverage, but then that coverage tends to follow the money.
Starlink also provides worldwide phone service at a pennies per minute rate
Really? Where are their rates published? And why would people be paying pennies per minute when they could Skype or use any of many VoIP services for free?
But that's also old-world thinking, ie charging for phone calls rather than being disruptive and not. Plus it means Starlink needs to invest in voice interconnect services, which means earth stations. And also falls squarely into complying with any legislation around phone calls, ie intercept capability & logging. Or in a cost-senstitve sense, having to buy & maintain mediation & billing engines to charge pennies per minute to the right customers.
But a lot of this is currently vaporware, ie the specs for the sats, terminals and protocols aren't published AFAIK. One potential issue is the number of transceivers & capacity per satellite, which gives an idea of potential contention & how practical they'd be for 'high speed broadband'. That's always been a challenge for satellite Internet services. IMHO, they're great for broadcast/multicast, but less so for unicast. Then again, it could end up being used for telemetry for Tesla's cars & solar/power systems & be a way to do intercompany cross-charging shenanigans.
Pity the poor radio astronomers. Instead of most folks getting their ‘net via a cable instead signals will be zooming up and down from all over and probably from ships on the ocean and airliners as developing now.
Sure it can all be filtered out in software but it will still degrade the imaging and bandwidth to some degree, especially considering the harmonics.
There may come a time when it isn’t possible to do radio astronomy from the surface such will be the noise. All so the future predicted by Wall-E can come to pass.
I’m a lifelong distance runner still going in my 50s but the majority of the rest of the population’s waistlines and lack of exercise and metabolic diseases attendant make me despair. The young are chunkier than ever, age to first Type II diabetes diagnosis decreasing.
Can you imagine the necessary dosing in the sodas on the Wall-E spaceship? Type II drugs/insulin, and statins would be only the start. Blood pressure drugs, drugs to present water retention (makes pressure sores from all the reclining less likely) and add in genetic predispositions for other co-morbidities.
I expect the conspiracies about all things sweetener (aspartame is a bloody amino acid for goodness sake) to follow us into space and spacepeople and Mars colonists alike will all be frantically growing sugar beet or dwarf sugar cane where more edible crops would be better.
To clarify the clarification of the clarification: marking the fourth use of this booster for launch and landing (ie. third reuse after the first use). This is the first time any booster has launched four times.
I know I'm asking for trouble with a comment like this (not my first time), so I'll get my coat now, ta.
Does make me wonder how much success Musk has to have before the naysayers eat their words.
The sats deorbit from drag within 3 months if they break before reaching target orbit.
They deorbit within 5 years at the highest target orbit for starlink.
Very few other sats in these low orbits, because the drag makes their lifespan short.
This batch have the auto avoidance system enabled and should self move out of the way of any potential issues.
Why is anybody on the reg if you don’t want super low latency gigabit internet anywhere.
Then again loads of reg readers still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
These satelites aren't going to bother visible astronomy
Space is, as the prophet said, big.
So the solid angle blocked by one of these satelites is like a midge flying across your telescope a mile away. They are in such a low orbit they are only going to be lit up by the sun very close to sunrise/set
They are more of an annoyance to radio astronomer, blanketing the whole sky in Ku and cat pictures - but realistically doing radio astronomy from Earth in any band useful for mobile data is too late
I'm sure I read somewhere that the intention is to make them non-reflective in the future. Did that happen with this batch? (Although would the solar panels make that tricky? Or would they always be oriented away from the Earth? Or maybe not? I'm confused. Can you have non-reflective solar panels?)
"They are more of an annoyance to radio astronomer, blanketing the whole sky in Ku and cat pictures - but realistically doing radio astronomy from Earth in any band useful for mobile data is too late"
The important difference is that normal mobile masts, and other radio related stuff, can be regulated locally. There are various places in which transmissions are banned for precisely that reason (usually for military, with astronomy piggybacking off that), and if that fails you can always fall back to the traditional astronomy standby and find a really remote mountain somewhere. The trouble with satellites is that they really do blanket the sky, with no regard for where the signal ends up - 100% coverage is pretty much the ideal. Radio astronomy currently works because, given sufficient authority, you can just tell the mobile operators to bugger off. You can't do that with a satellite operator that may not even have any legal presence in your country.
Viewing the universe thorough an atmosphere is far from ideal.
The answer is what the vast profit from starlink enables. That being StarShip at a cost of $2M to get 150T to LEO, if launched from a NASA complex. It's less than $1m if launched from Boca. Thats less than the cost of lugging 150T up a chillian mountain top!
All telescopes should be space based, its just the vast cost of launching that's prevented that. As the launch cost is so high, sats have to be made not to possible fail, adding yet more cost.
Just imagin what can be built with a $1-2M launch cost, weighing 150T and at 9 Meter wide faring!
How much does your amature scope weigh?
At the proposed $2M cost per 150T launch, thats $13 a KG!
Nobody seems to relise how transofrmational that cost per KG really is...
The $2 is including Paying $900,000 for fule. Which SpaceX is going to make for free using Tesla solar pannels, a compressor and the Sabatier process.
Also includes $1M to NASA for Florida launch complex cost. Boca is SpaceX owned and being preped for full launches. $100K for maintance per launch.
Given the limitations in computing power at the time he probably wrote it, no doubt.
With the vastly increased computing power we have available today it could probably be calculated in an order of magnitude [or more] shorter time that his calculations took.
would have given him kittens!
Kittens? Did someone say kittens?
I have a few gaps in the cat colour-spectrum so if there are any silver tabbies, golden-fur types (Somali et. al.) or white ones then let me know.
I'm sure I can sneak a few in before t'wife notices and then she won't have the heart to make me give them away..
After all, only 7 cats is so amatuer y'know.
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