Elon Musk-owned SpaceX has been launching thousands of satellites into orbit. Many people claim to have seen them in the skies.
They are part of the Starlink project. Starlink might be a less known venture of Elon Musk, which aims to provide high-speed internet services from space to remote areas on Earth by way of a growing network of private satellites orbiting overhead.
After years of development and anonymity within SpaceX — and after securing nearly US $885.5 million in grant funds from the Federal Communications Commission at the end of 2020 — Starlink gained momentum in 2021.
In January, after three years of successful launches, the project had launched more than 1,000 satellites delivered into orbit. Just after one year, the project surprised everyone by dozens of successful launches. Starlink claims to launch more than 2,000 functional satellites orbiting overhead, and boasts that it now offers services in 32 countries around the globe, though the budding broadband provider still faces a backlog of prospective customers waiting to receive equipment and start service. That list of countries includes Ukraine, where Musk said in February that additional satellite internet terminals were in progress amid the Russian invasion (and amid Russian attempts to jam the signal), a move that cost US taxpayers $3 million, according to a report from the Washington Post.
“There are people in the UK in that category, but more across the world, in places like Africa,” says Dr Lucinda King, Space Projects Manager at the University of Portsmouth. Starlink’s satellites have been put in low-level orbit around the Earth to make connection speeds between the satellites and the ground as fast as possible.
However, plenty of low-level satellites are needed to provide complete coverage of the globe. Starlink seems to have placed some 3,000 of them into space since 2018. It may eventually use 10,000 or 12,000, says Chris Hall, editorial director of the technology website Pocket Lint.
“Using satellites solves the problem of getting internet connections to remote locations in deserts and mountains,” he says. “It bypasses the need to build massive amounts of infrastructure, like cables and masts, to reach those areas.”
How Much Does the Internet From Starlink Cost?
There are 3 Starlink packages: residential, business, and RV. For residential use, Starlink costs $110 per month, plus you pay a one-time charge for the hardware of $599. Starlink Business, with twice the antenna capability of the residential offering, plus higher throughput and faster internet speeds, costs $500 per month with a one-time equipment cost of $2,500. Digital nomads can access Starlink internet wherever it’s available for $135 per month plus $599 for the hardware.
“Most of the developed world is already well connected,” says Professor Sa’id Mosteshar of London University’s Institute of Space Policy and Law. “They’re relying on a small share of the market for revenues.”
The company says it has 400,000 subscribers in the 36 countries it currently covers – mostly in North America, Europe and Australasia. This is made up of both households and businesses. Next year, Starlink plans to extend its coverage further across Africa and South America, and into Asia – regions of the world where internet coverage is more patchy.
“Starlink’s prices may be too high for many households in Africa, say,” says Chris Hall. “But it could play an important role in connecting schools and hospitals in remote areas there.”