How Starlink Will Change Global Business & Politics

Shaan Ray
Published in
4 min readOct 20, 2020
A diagram indicating Starlink’s connectivity once the project is complete. Source

Starlink, from SpaceX, is a satellite internet constellation that seeks to provide low-cost, high-performance internet around the world. Starlink will change global politics and business in many ways.

Political and Business Impact

40% of the world’s people have difficulty or is unable to access the internet. Many of these people are in less-developed regions of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa. Affordable access to high-speed internet could change the makeup of people participating in digital life, lead to a more inclusive internet and significantly increase online business opportunities.

Many countries limit their residents’ internet access in a variety of ways. While Starlink will technically make it possible to provide internet to anybody who wants it — without the consent of governments — SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that internet will be provided “on a country-by-country basis” and that “any given country can say it’s illegal to have a ground link.” Referring specifically to China, Musk said “if they get upset with us, they can blow our satellites up, which wouldn’t be good.”

How will Starlink improve internet speeds?

Starlink’s internet will be about 40 times faster than today’s high-speed internet in America.

The satellites will use lasers to communicate with each other, resulting in lower latency over larger distances. Light can travel much faster through space as compared to fiber optic cables on earth.

A digital artist’s interpretation of what Starlink’s satellites will look like over the Earth. Source

In 2020, Musk said that once Starlink is operational, people around the world will “be able to watch high-def movies, play video games and do all the things they want to do without noticing speed.”

How many satellites will Starlink include?

To operationalize Starlink, SpaceX will launch roughly 12,000 satellites into space. Just over a third of these will orbit at a higher altitude of about 750 miles, with the rest at a lower altitude of about 200 miles. Documents submitted to American authorities by SpaceX indicate that SpaceX eventually plans to launch up up to an additional 30,000 satellites.

Each Starlink satellite weighs about 385 kilograms, has an expected lifespan of about 5 years and will then be manually retired. Once a satellite re-enters the atmosphere, it will burn up.

How will people access Starlink internet?

A Starlink internet user will have to install a pizza box-sized receiver or antenna to connect to their internet. This will help SpaceX bypass the global cell phone tower infrastructure and end the Internet Service Provider monopolies.

When will Starlink internet be available?

The project should be operating at its expected capacity by 2027.

Starlink satellites visible to the naked eye, seen over Palermo, Italy on April 30, 2020. Source

How will Starlink affect SpaceX finances?

SpaceX is launching Starlink satellites using its own Falcon 9 rockets, so its average launch price will be significantly lower than that available to other ISPs.

Though Starlink will cost SpaceX $7.8 billion, it is expected to increase SpaceX’s annual revenue tenfold — from approximately $2 billion today to anywhere between $30 billion to $50 billion once Starlink is fully operational.

What are some other issues with Starlink?

Astronomers have warned that Starlink satellites will obstruct humanity’s view of the night sky. SpaceX is adding dark paint and sunshades to Starlink satellites to reduce their reflectiveness and to partially address astronomers’ concerns.

Increased LEO satellite activity also entails more collision risk and a more congested communication environment. It is difficult to determine whether satellites’ collision-avoidance systems will work in orbit. Regulators are working to address these issues.

Who will compete with Starlink?

Starlink will face competition from other Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellation-based internet providers. These include Amazon — which is launching 3,000 small satellites. UK-based OneWeb and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation are each expected to launch a smaller number of satellites to provide high-speed internet on earth.

Shaan Ray

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