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While Tesla is one of Elon Musk’s most well known ventures, an initiative from his SpaceX company called Starlink is seeking to revolutionise the internet by providing global broadband coverage. If you’ve ever wondered what Starlink is, and how it works, we’ve got the rundown on everything you need to know about it.

What is Starlink?

Starlink is an internet program with the goal of providing high speed, low latency broadband-level internet connections globally through its private network of constellation satellites, which can at times be spotted in the night sky by ground observers.

Satellite internet is nothing new – it’s been around for many years and used in rural and geographically isolated communities where internet connectively is unreliable or non-existent. However, how Starlink does it – and how it’s continuing to grow – makes it an industry leader.

The growth of Starlink

Starlink, a division of Musk’s SpaceX aerospace manufacturing and space transportation business, was publically announced in 2015. A number of years of development and testing followed its announcement, before thousands of satellites started being sent up into orbit in 2018, courtesy of SpaceX’s rocket launch program.

As of 2022, over 2,600 functional satellites in the Starlink system are now in orbit, with future plans for thousands more satellites to join them. Starlink’s ultimate goal is global coverage, including for people on the move in vehicles and in-flight. In mid-May 2022, there were a reported 400,000 subscribers to the Starlink service.

How Starlink works

Starlink customers use a small receiver dish to connect to the satellite system, installed anywhere there is an open view of the sky – ideally on top of their home or on a tall mast in the yard or attached to the home’s exterior. A mobile app helps users pick the best location for their receiver.

The Starlink satellite system circles in low Earth orbit so that it can communicate with the ground receivers, and the user’s receiver locates the closest satellite and connects to it. As the satellite chain orbits, the receiver connects to the next satellite in range, with the aim of creating a seamless connection.

While there are still some gaps in the range of coverage, as more satellites are added by Starlink, the coverage improves. Newer satellites in the Starlink constellation also have laser communication elements for signal transmission between each other, which helps reduce their dependency on ground-based stations.

How Starlink differs from other satellite internet providers

Most satellite internet providers work from a few large satellites to deliver internet to remote and rural users, with a great deal of lag and buffering usually experienced, which makes video conferencing and gaming difficult.

Starlink’s constellation system set up aims to provide more consistent, higher speed and lower latency internet through sheer numbers and its lower orbit. While coverage and speed are still not as good as that of regular internet enjoyed in urban areas (download speeds currently sit around 50-150 Mbps, and upload speeds are around 10 Mbps), the more satellites that are added to the Starlink network, the better it will become over time for those in more isolated or rural locations.

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