Release of Planet Lab SkySat from SpaceX Starlink v1-10 launch (Source: SpaceX)

SpaceX launches 11th batch of Starlink broadband satellites & Planet rideshare

Today, August 18, SpaceX launched its eleventh batch of Starlink broadband satellites into orbit, bring the total number of Starlink satellites put into orbit to date at over 653 (plus two test satellites).  The flight put 58 Starlink satellites plus three Planet Skybox high-resolution imaging satellites into low earth orbit, along with marking the sixth successful flight and landing of a Falcon 9 first stage.

SpaceX Starlink flight v1-10 lifted off at 10:31 AM EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Falcon 9 first stage previously was used to launch Telstar 18 in 2018, the Iridium-8 mission in 2019, and three different Starlink missions in May 2019 through June 2020. It also marks reuse of the fairing, which previously was used on the fourth launch of Starlink. Both the first stage and the two parts of the fairing were successfully recovered for future reuse.

This is the second Starlink flight in August 2020, with the first taking place on August 7.  Prior to that, Starlink launch operations paused to enable the successful launch of the Crew Dragon space capsule to the International Space Station and commercial customers.  SpaceX’s notational goal was to conduct Starlink launches twice a month through 2021 with around 1400 satellites making up its first generation constellation to deliver global broadband service.

Planet’s addition of three Skybox satellites now give it a constellation of 21 satellites capable of providing sub-1 meter resolution.  The most recently launched six Skybox satellites, all put into orbit this year onboard SpaceX rideshare opportunities on top of a Starlink satellite stack, will be in an orbit of around 53 degrees inclination to offer multiple revisits over “key areas,” according to a Planet blog.

Beta testing has reportedly opened up for Starlink service with pictures of consumer end-user equipment and antennas appearing on Reddit.  Initial reports/leaks from beta testers in the Northern United States indicate Starlink currently delivering between 11 Mbps to 60 Mbps download speeds with upload speeds in the range from 5 Mbps to 18 Mbps, according to an ArsTechnica piece coming through Reddit posts. Latencies range between a low of 20ms to a high of 91ms.

What actual service will look like is anyone’s guess, since initial users will have clear skies and airwaves while service is likely to become more challenged within a particular geography as more customers are turned up, competing for bandwidth within the satellite service footprint.  Latencies will be affected by overall network design and how/if signals are relayed between ground stations, since the first generation Starlink satellites do not have inter-satellite communications links to shuttle packets between satellites before transmitting them to/from customers.

Service and equipment pricing is also an unknown, but a Reddit post suggested that replacement of the beta customer equipment could be on the order of $2000 or so.  SpaceX currently has a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license to operate up to 1 million end-user terminals and is seeking to bump that number up to 5 million end-user terminals based on the collection of 700,000 email addresses collected via the Starlink website as potential expressions of customer interest.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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