SpaceX has already proven that Starlink works and can change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world who will get high-speed internet access in almost every corner of the globe. However, for the project itself to become profitable, it requires much more capable satellites, and these can only be launched into orbit by Starship.
Starship will change the way satellites are distributed
Tim Dodd, the creator responsible for the big YouTube channel – Everyday Astronaut, recently had the opportunity to spend a few hours with Elon Musk while visiting the SpaceX factory in Boca Chica. Thanks to this, a lot of interesting information about SpaceX’s next plans has become public. Today, however, we will only focus on one aspect, namely the Starlink project. It turns out that Starship’s first orbital flight could also be the first attempt to put the second-generation Starlink satellite (so-called v2.0) into orbit. One of the Starship prototypes is already equipped with a special mechanism for distributing orbiting satellites. Interestingly, it works on a completely different principle than used in Falcon 9.
Currently, Starlink v1.5 satellites are put into orbit in packs of 52-53 pieces at a time, and over the next few days they change position, creating characteristic “trains” in the sky. In the case of Starship, the mechanism will be different. SpaceX does not want to install large “gates” at this time that could allow all cargo to be released simultaneously. Instead, a kind of dispenser was designed. Through a relatively narrow opening in the fuselage, successive satellites will be launched into space one by one. This solution turns out to be easier to implement because the opening is small and it is easier to maintain the integrity of the vessel itself. It’s certainly an interesting idea that no one has thought of before, but that’s not the end of the news.
Elon Musk reveals the possibilities of Starlink v2
In the recently published part two of the trip report, Elon had some very interesting words to say about the next-generation satellites themselves. It turns out that the first copy is ready and has been sent to Boca Chica for testing. This means that SpaceX is seriously considering building a new, much more efficient constellation very quickly. According to the boss of SpaceX, version 2.0 of Starlink weighs around 1250 kg, peaks at 7 meters after unfolding the solar panels and must offer almost ten times the efficiency of the first generation. For comparison, current Starlink v1.5 satellites weigh around 310 kg and are estimated to offer 18 Gbps bandwidth. Starlink v2 would even offer 140-160 Gbps, which means a single satellite can serve a much larger number of users.
The latest information shows that currently more than 400,000 customers worldwide use Starlink Internet, but in order for the project to become profitable, their number must increase to several million. According to Elon Musk, this is not possible with today’s small satellites and that is why Starship is so important. Falcon 9 is not suitable for launching new generation satellites. With a mass of 1.25 tons, it would be able to orbit a maximum of 10 satellites at once, provided that the volume of such a load is not a limitation. SpaceX plans to have 30,000 of these satellites, so clearly Falcon 9 will not succeed.
Starship, on the other hand, could successfully embark even 110 to 120 of these satellites, meaning building a constellation would be much easier and require fewer launches. Licensed by the FCC, SpaceX should have half of its 30,000 satellites in orbit by the end of 2027. If it starts launching them next year, that would give us 3,000 satellites a year, which is optimistic for 25 Starship launches. Falcon 9 only arrived at such a tenure 10 years after its first launch, so the plan is certainly ambitious. Especially considering that we are still ahead of our first orbital test.
The spaceship is crucial
By estimating the current capacity of a single Starlink satellite at 18 Gbps and even assuming that this is only the speed available to users, and not the entire band used to communicate with earth stations, a satellite can serve approximately 900 to 1000 people, while offering a bandwidth of 20 Mbps. Yes, not everyone uses it at the same time and not everyone needs the full 20 Mbps unless they are streaming a movie, so these values are contractual only. However, it is clear that current satellites are not enough to provide service to millions of people. Starlink v2.0, offering 160 Gbps, bumps that up to 8000, which should be more than enough.
Theoretically, with 30,000 satellites, this could serve over 200 million users. However, it must be taken into account that most of the surface of our planet is made up of oceans, where the customers are likely to be transport companies and airlines, and not ordinary people. However, that doesn’t change the fact that if Starlink is to win for SpaceX’s Mars jaunts, it must have several million customers, and as you can see, that goal won’t be achieved with the current generation of satellites. For now, the company is only contributing to the venture, recently launching a new round of funding. 400,000 customers paying a minimum of $100 per month, that’s only $40 million, that’s the cost of maybe 2 Falcon 9 launches, and where is the production of the satellites themselves? Starlink needs to start growing, and it looks like Starship will play a major role in that plan.