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Two-minute explainer: what is SpaceX’s Starlink business?


SpaceX, Elon Musk’s privately held rocket company, is best known for its rocket missions, carrying payloads into space for Nasa and other space companies.

The company also owns Starlink, a subsidiary business that is creating a ‘constellation’ of low-orbit satellites around the Earth to provide high-speed internet access around the globe.

While Musk has said he does not plan to list SpaceX on the stock market, executives have said that Starlink is “likely” to IPO at some time in the future.

But it will not be for a while, as the Tesla boss wants the consumer ‘space broadband’ product to generate cash to help fund SpaceX, where Musk’s ultimate dream is to send humans to live on Mars.

While there is already a fleet of more than 1,000 broadband relay satellites already in low orbit, this is just a portion of the total ‘megaconstellation’ of 12,000 satellites that the full service will need. 

The launch of the next batch of 60 microsatellites was planned for late February but was pushed back to the first week of March.

SpaceX’s Starship serial number 10 (SN10) could launch on Wednesday, barring problems with technology or weather.

Initial customers for the satellite broadband service have signed up for initial live testing, generally in remote locations where wired internet access is uneconomical, with a limited number of preorders for the service available for each area.

There has been both praise and criticism of Starlink.

For those in remote rural locations, such as the Hoh people, a Native American tribe located in Western Washington state, who tweeted that getting broadband via Starlink was like being “catapulted into the 21st century”.

But astronomers say Starlink’s army of mini satellites is already messing with their view of the night skies, with the bright streaks left across telescopes’ fields of view.

International legislation is being sought to deal with the matter, with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) said to be considering ways to keep satellites from polluting the night sky with light and radio signals for astronomers, wildlife and the public.

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