A rocket carrying 21 new-generation Starlink satellites successfully launched into orbit at 1813 EST yesterday from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The flight, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, saw the Starlink internet service pass two milestones: it marked the first release of its second-generation satellite and the project’s launch total topping 4000 satellites.
Starlink is a division of SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk. It provides speedy internet connections beamed from the skies, in contrast to traditional connections, which use subsea pipelines and underground fibre optic cables to bring broadband to homes and businesses.
Its services have become particularly important for Ukraine, which has seen its traditional internet connections disrupted by Russia. In December 2022, the US Federal Communications Commission gave Starlink approval to put up to 7500 of the new satellites.
The V2 Mini versions, which are smaller than Starlink’s original ones, have four times the capacity to serve users speedy internet, according to their manufacturer. This is due to a more efficient array of antennas and the use of radio frequencies between 71 and 86 gigahertz – called the E band, according to SpaceX. The company has said the new satellites “represent a step forward in Starlink capability”.
The newer satellites will orbit Earth at an altitude below 600 kilometres, meaning they will eventually decay and re-enter the planet’s atmosphere, limiting the number left circling Earth as debris. Astronomers have previously raised concerns that large constellations of satellites will affect the ability to see stars in our night sky.
The lower orbit also has benefits over geostationary satellites, which have been the main provider of satellite internet connections until now, says Doug Madory of Kentik, a company that monitors internet performance. Geostationary satellites orbit Earth at higher altitudes – around 35,800 kilometres – which increases latency, or the time taken to send and receive information on the internet. Low-orbit satellites like Starlink’s give lower latency by using more satellites, closer to the surface, says Madory.
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