How Does Starlink Work Anyway?

No matter what you think of Elon Musk, it’s hard to deny that he takes the dictum “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” to heart. From hurling sports cars into orbit to solar-powered roof destroyers, there’s little that Mr. Musk can’t turn into a net positive for at least one of his many ventures, not to mention his image.

Elon may have gotten in over his head, though. His plan to use his SpaceX rockets to fill the sky with thousands of satellites dedicated to providing cheap Internet access ran afoul of the astronomy community, which has decried the impact of the Starlink satellites on observations, both in the optical wavelengths and further down the spectrum in the radio bands. And that’s with only a tiny fraction of the planned constellation deployed; once fully built-out, they fear Starlink will ruin Earth-based observation forever.

What exactly the final Starlink constellation will look like and what impact it would have on observations depend greatly on the degree to which it can withstand regulatory efforts and market forces. Assuming it does survive and gets built out into a system that more or less resembles the current plan, what exactly will Starlink do? And more importantly, how will it accomplish its stated goals?

Smallsats and Pizza Boxes; Lasers and Krypton Gas Thrusters

For as small as the Starlink satellites are — in the “smallsat” class and weighing in at about 250 kg each — they’re packed with all sorts of fun stuff. As pointed out in the Real Engineering video below, each Starlink satellite is essentially a flying, solar-powered wireless router. Phased-array antennas on the Earth-facing side of the satellite will link to “user terminals,” the oft-described “pizza box” ground stations that will provide Internet services to groups on the ground. The satellite also has onboard Hall-effect krypton gas thrusters for station keeping and for the eventual de-orbit burn when the satellite passes its best-by date.

Perhaps the most interesting bit of tech onboard each satellite is a set of lasers. While none of the 180 or so Starlink satellites launched so far have been equipped with lasers, the intention is to use them for the all-important job of “backhaul” communications: the ability to link nearby satellites together optically to find a path between any two ground stations. This has significant throughput benefits over traditional terrestrial fiber-optic links, since the speed of light in glass is about half of that in a vacuum. In theory, Starlink connections have the potential to greatly reduce the latency that exists in terrestrial links. But of course the satellites need those lasers first, and they need to work.

The improved latency of Starlink is probably the key to understanding what Mr. Musk is trying to accomplish here. The ability to provide low-latency transcontinental connections could be incredibly lucrative, especially to the financial markets, where time is literally money. Given the lengths that high-frequency traders will go to shave a few milliseconds off a link, SpaceX could name their price for a reliable link that saves 30 milliseconds or more. Any of the other stated benefits of Starlink, like providing Internet access to underserved locations, will ride on the back of the waves of profit the service will unleash.

Let’s All Do the Hop to Hybrid Backhaul

But that leaves a question: what good is Starlink without the optical backhaul system? As mentioned, none of the satellites currently flying has lasers installed, so there’s no way to link them together directly. Can the constellation be used without the laser backhaul?

In a separate video, networking researcher Mark Handley brilliantly answers not only that question, but also provides us with a glimpse at how the Starlink network will probably work. He suggests that the laser backhaul could be replaced by hops between satellites and idle user terminals on the ground. Even with the overhead of switching and the increased distance compared to a direct laser connection between satellites, the connection would be profitably faster than a terrestrial fiber connection.

This scheme requires a decent number of user terminals to be effective, and they need to be fairly evenly distributed so that an efficient and low-latency path can be stitched together. This leaves the possibility that there will be some special offers made to people living in areas that need a ground station to fill in a hole in the network. It also leaves the problem of crossing the wide expanses of ocean, but as Dr. Handley points out, a ship or even a buoy anchored in the right place could serve the purpose.

Once Starlink satellites with lasers start to launch and the optical backhaul network begins to come online, will that spell the doom of the putative ground-based backhaul? Not necessarily, according to Dr. Handley. With some compelling simulations, he makes the case for using a combination of optical and ground relays to create a hybrid network that fills in the gaps better than an all-optical network. Hybrid backhaul seems to be especially beneficial for long north-south routes, and routes that pass over relatively unpopulated areas, such as northern Europe to southern Africa.

Granted, all of this is conjecture on the part of Dr. Handley, but given his background and the source material he’s working from, it all seems plausible. The details of the final Starlink system are likely to differ significantly from these simulations due to business imperatives, regulatory hurdles, and technical challenges as yet unknown. But the whole architecture of Starlink is fascinating, and as much as we’re not looking forward to night skies littered with thousands of satellites, the technical achievements and engineering challenges of bringing such a system online are enough to hold our interest for a long time.

123 thoughts on “How Does Starlink Work Anyway?

    1. I only wonder what they (Starlink, Oneweb etc.) will do if Global Mesh Network cover all The Earth lands.
      Serve as tier-1 network? Last mile (kilometer)? Replacement transatlantic cable? Private service network? Interplanetary Network?

      1. Probably just the middle three. Teir-1 would require too many legal hurdles and difficult peering agreements with competitors who won’t want to play ball. Interplanetary would be nice, but even with lasers, would be difficult to pull off due to power requirements, targeting, and latency.

    1. Doesn’t the straight line vs reflected path contribute anything? I suppose the fibre is so small it’s still basically straight?

      Still seems over the distance of the Atlantic path differences may add up but not to 1.33x I imagine.

    2. Second minor point is that the constellation is fying 500 km up, so for local connections on the scale of entire countries, you are easily adding more than twice the latency by the distance alone.

    3. Don’t forget that the fiber cable has to go where it can be placed, meaning the shortest path between two points in fiber optic cables is not a straight line, it is meaningfully longer.

    1. The window of opportunity for causing global calamity with a scissors is closing, but the window of opportunity for causing global calamity with a sufficiently powerful RF jammer is just opening.

      Expect certain nation states to have such jamming systems in place shortly, and similar devices to be installed on military air craft.

          1. If the rumors aren´t false, then both US and Russians are using their navigation systems to manipulate people who are using their navigation. It was suggested that US makes GPS (semi)locally imprecise for tactical reasons from time to time. The same is being said about Russians, who were manipulating ships near Krym using Glonass to make them come closer to observation points.

      1. This. I’m sure jamming will be an issue, how else would countries block and censor their people to keep their tyrannical regimes in power. I wonder if Musk bow to China’s great firewall..?

  1. Put cameras on the things ! And spectrographs ! And radar ! And lidar ! If we can have this much stuff in my phone in a few grams, they can bother to put a kilogram of scientific sensors in a 250kg satellite … I want to be able to connect to the IP of the sat over my head, pop up the camera feed, and try blinding it with a laser pointer. Is that too much to ask?
    Also add a solar sail to a few of them and try sending them to Mars that way, lightsail2 was super small.

    1. And SpaceX doesn’t have to design all that stuff themselves, they can just go to Universities around the world, and tell them « Give us 60 sensor packages weighing less than a kilogram, and we’ll put them on the next batch »

  2. The astronomers ain’t seen nothing yet. Musk is talking about parking a thousand Starships in orbit, waiting for their launch window to Mars.

    Of course, if access to space becomes cheap and easy, astronomers can have all the space telescopes they want to make up for the ruined ground viewing.

    1. Check out Made In Space and their plans for in-orbit manufacturing of telescopes, 100+ meter diameters are conceivable with tech we have today, it’s mostly an engineering challenge.

      1. Dr. Handley’s assessment lines up reasonably well with the models we ran during development of the system at Google before the project team split and half started Starlink. Unfortunately, selling low latency links in urban areas leads to design choices that run counter to the choices that yield a cost optimized system for global coverage. I’m still waiting to see how they deal with the data routing challenges caused by the high rate of change in the system topology. All the people who designed a software-defined network specifically to deal with those challenges stayed at Google and repurposed the design for Loon. Perhaps SpaceX plans to license that system from Loon as is being done by other satellite operators already.

    2. I’m still quite concerned about the fact that all these satellites, etc., use raw materials gathered on Earth, and then get shot into the sky, never to return to Earth and be lost forever. At least fossil fuels are being transformed into something else, but stay on Earth, and could be recuperated in later ages. Raw materials shot into space are lost forever to us.

      Of course we have lots and lots of those raw materials, but over time we might create a shortage for ourselves. In any case, we should not shoot materials away from Earth too enthusiastically.

      I know that in the case of these satellites, they have a limited lifetime and will fall back to Earth. But the next step in our conquering of space will surely be to shoot stuff into deep space to learn more about it (like we sent Voyager out there).

      Just something to think about. We can only stand on the shoulders of giants, if we create those giants first. So only shoot stuff into deep space if we have provided ourselves with access to resources on other planets.

      1. No. Even millions of those wouldn’t really be meaningfull compared to the available ressources, and it’s all going to fall down to earth anyway thanks to orbital mechanics.

        1. Oh, also, by the time we are shooting much stuff into space, we’ll be getting a lot of our ressources *from space* ( asteroids etc ), even bringing some of it down for use on the ground.

      2. “I’m still quite concerned about the fact that all these satellites, etc., use raw materials gathered on Earth, and then get shot into the sky, never to return to Earth and be lost forever.”

        So, let’s make all future spacecraft out of methane, CO2, and other greenhouse gasses.
        Problem solved!

      1. Re-usable rockets, self-driving cars, popularizing EVs, 3 billion more internauts. Not that I think it’s worth worshiping the guy, but it’s definitely way better than your average billionaire.

      2. He’s completely altered people’s perception of electric cars and he’s revolutionizing access to space. Give the man his due.

        People haven’t really thought about this until now, but if we’re ever going to be a spacefaring species, a la “2001” or “Star Trek”, there’s going to be a lot of stuff in orbit and ground telescopes are going to be affected. This isn’t about Musk. This is about whether you want the human race to be confined to Earth forever, or not.

          1. and large diesel equipment gets to cheat by having special fuel tank warmers or not actually the same as normal diesel fuel treated fuel, but if electric cars have to do that it’s a fail. :-D

          2. Yep, oil takes a pass, but electric doesn’t, despite oil having a century more R&D than electric to figure out these sorts of issues.

            If you don’t see that this sort of stuff is just a bunch of engineering away from being solved, and the only reason it has not been solved yet is because EVs are not mass-produced enough yet, you are a moron.

      3. You know, it’s not just SpaceX that has plans for deploying satellite constellations. OneWeb is planning to launch 1,800 satellites, Amazon Kuiper Project is planning on 3,236, then there is Telesat and others.

        Besides that, as long as demand exists, if SpaceX didn’t do it, others surely would.

        1. What law is stopping amazon from parking one of their satellites in front of one from spacex to disrupt it?
          And then what’s stopping spacex from accidently crashing into the amazon one?

          The talk of satellite warfare in space is increasingly looking like it’s going to come from commercial entities not governments.
          And probably by accident, but very public.

        2. Needless duplication of effort, all in the name of making T$ for one group of greedy gets over another. They might need to invent a new currency, just to have so much profit in. And no requirement for interoperability, each one going for a planetary monopoly or bust. There’s a reason you’re not reading this on Compuserve right now.

  3. “… ran afoul of the astronomy community, which has decried the impact of the Starlink satellites on observations, both in the optical wavelengths and further down the spectrum in the radio bands.”

    Is this actually a problem?

    The satellites optically flare at dawn and dusk, do optical astronomers actually observe during these times?
    I always thought they waited much later for thermal equilibrium, and still air.

    I can see perhaps a “warm”, (in infrared) satellite pass in front of the telescope, but orbital tracks are published, and updated.
    observation could be paused or shuttered for the time a satellite is visible to the telescope.

    As for the RF interference, they are using phased array antenna, so the telescope should not be illuminated by the beam…
    But if it was, the TX frequency is known, and a band-stop filter could be implemented (hardware or software).

    Anyways, I keep hearing about the outrage from the astronomy community…
    And I wonder is it just a few vocal individuals?
    Or is it actually the internet service providers trying to slow down Starlink progress.

    1. Light reflected off a satellite is easily overpowering the stars and other space stuff that astronomers are interested in.

      This remains true, even if one coats the whole satellite in Vantablack. (That is still 0.04% or more of the light reflecting back.)

      Now, the Earth isn’t a particularly impressive light source during night, but compared to the light reflecting off an asteroid deep into space, well that isn’t really a lot of light either…

      1. It is very hard to see an earth killing asteroid if coming at us from the direction of the sun. To see them we need space based observation systems. We need to get the SpaceX’s Starship up and flying as soon as possible. That will allow us to get some satellites out there where we can be looking for the asteroids we cannot see at a price we can afford. Way cheaper to let SpaceX develop it than use tax dollars. Use the tax dollars to build big space based telescopes.

    2. “I can see perhaps a “warm”, (in infrared) satellite pass in front of the telescope, but orbital tracks are published, and updated.
      observation could be paused or shuttered for the time a satellite is visible to the telescope.”

      A lot of comets/asteroids are discovered by amateur astronomers. Having to know “the orbitals” of thousands of satellites will make it harder for them to identify something that may be heading right toward Earth. It may make their “hobby” not worth pursuing, depriving us of early warnings.

  4. “For as small as the Starlink satellites are — in the “smallsat” class and weighing in at about 250 kg each — they’re packed with all sorts of fun stuff. ”

    Like we’ll have access to it.

    “Any of the other stated benefits of Starlink, like providing Internet access to underserved locations, will ride on the back of the waves of profit the service will unleash.”

    Much like “free” rides on the back of other money-making schemes.

    1. This kind of proof of concept stuff is one of the things I hate about business. I’m pretty sure they didn’t need to launch 180 satellites without lasers, but in busisness, for reasons I only vaugely understand, you never skip to the “full version”, without a bunch of sometimes almost throwaway demos in between.

      Sometimes you need to test things, but a lot of the time, like, no, I don’t need to build a stripped down demo version, and then a slightly better one, and so on through five successive iterations.

      That’s like playing design by committee by yourself, and the whole architecture of the project becomes an awful mess, because it was designed to support the MVP quickly, not the product you were actually trying to build.

      1. They can already provide Internet access with the sattelites as they are. The interlinks are for when they’ll have too many customers to ping things off the ground efficiently.

        1. Sure, but isn’t launching them at least 90% of the cost? So you may as well stick the lasers on even if you don’t switch them on at first. You can test for unknown problems better in-situ even if the lasers are only used for that. Then, if possible, upload the code to bring them fully online.

          Besides aren’t the interlinks meant to be to shave those ridiculous billion-dollar femtoseconds off the business of trading nothing, back and forth, a trillion times an eyeblink? Perhaps they don’t want to shoot their bolt all in one go. Sell an incremental increase to the high-frequency tradeobots for a pile of money, then a further increase again once the latency advantage has percolated out to the degree that they can’t charge as much for it any more. Then once the lasers are available to everyone, you’ve hit the limit of physics and that’s most of the profitability gone. An advantage isn’t an advantage when everyone has it.

          Then maybe there’ll be the time to do something useful with the satellites while they’ve still got some lifetime left. And I can’t believe they’re going to be allowed to park them all in a higher orbit when there’s so many thousands of them. Perhaps that’s Phase III, offering those rubbish-wagon satellites that clean up the fragments of all the smashed up dead ones, before it cascades and ruins satellites for everyone. Make a fortune making a mess, then charge the world a fortune to clean it up again!

          Man this shit plans itself. If only I were more psychopathic and also not lazy. I feel like one of the little men inside Elon’s head.

          1. Considering everything we’ve seen SpaceX do in the past decade, it’s extremely clear if they had a laser system worth adding to the sattelites, they would. If they could and they aren’t, this would be opposite to everything we’ve seen them do before.

            It’s clear they don’t have anything that would do more than add weight at this time, and since the sats are already immensely useful even without the lasers, that’s what they launch.

            It’s not rocket science ( :) ).

            Sure, the interlinks are what will allow the trading part of all this, but just providing normal Internet access is already a collosal market, so why not do that now, and add the lasers when they have something that’s more than dead weight on that front?

      1. If Musk provides better service to those areas than the current providers do, why does that make him the bad guy? Should we be protecting the companies that are providing poor service by keeping better options out?

        1. Internet adoption is growing at insane speeds, even without Starlink, and Starlink is only going to accelerate that. You really want to look up how Internet access is growing around the world currently

    1. The tears of the amateur astronomers will power the new Space Drive, but in reality their neighbor’s porch light is a larger source of interference.

      There are real light pollution battles in these peoples’ communities that they haven’t been fighting, this is a silly battle to choose where there is no chance of success.

      Die only on impossible hills, the rallying cry of the age.

  5. I don’t mean to be “that guy” but mark my words, these things are being used for way more than mere internet.

    I’m sure the Government has some hand in this. Put a camera in every unit and some other technology and you’ve got a high speed surveillance network. Add to that the potential resolution of an grid of camera sensors. Yup, me thinks something else is going on here..

    1. You’d need significantly-side mirrors on them ( think Hubble ) to actually see anything interesting in the surface beyond looking at crops growing. The Starlink satellites are way too small for this. I’m sure it’s possible there has been commercial satellites that had hidden gov payloads, but Starlink is a terrible choice for this.
      However, drones currently generate orders of magnitude more data than they can communicate, so you can be sure Starlink will be used to improve that.

      1. Synthetic Aperture. It’s been used in optical telescopes and there are several SA arrays of radio telescopes. The signals from an array of small telescopes are combined to make the array act as though it’s a single large telescope with a dish or mirror the diameter of the array.

        Equip a massive fleet of satellites with something like the ARGUS-IS and you’d have an SA telescope with a diameter larger than Earth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARGUS-IS

        Point cameras at Earth, point them outward, either way the setup could provide the best imaging ever.

        1. I’m still a bit skeptical, those things are pretty small, and you’d want your mirrors to be small enough that they aren’t a huge feature of it ( if this was on them now, they wouldn’t be showing us the deployment, the same way gov payloads are usually not showing it ).

          Also, SA works great if you are looking at a star that’s crazy far away, or if all your little telescopes are bunched together, but here there are hundreds of kilometers between each telescope, meaning the angle to the observation target is different on each, making SA a much more complicated idea …

    2. There’s already cameras infesting every city. Did you miss them!? For rocket bases in the middle of Kazakhstan, the CIA have had proper cameras on proper sats for 50 years. How many more cameras could they need?

      Currently the bottleneck is getting enough eyeballs to actually watch the monitors, the cameras and interlinks are fine as they are. AI is helping take over that, but you still need to teach it what to look for. And above that, figure out exactly how to specify what you want you want it to learn to look for.

    3. Sorry, That Guy, the government has already had camera satellites for decades. They can track other frequencies already, too.

      They don’t need a conspiracy for that, and using one would make funding more difficult; Congress is happy to pay for signal intelligence.

      This is about giving corporations access to these technologies, it isn’t about the Gubermint.

      IMO you should be less conspiratorial, more afraid. Trust these corporations to want to maximize profits at any cost.

  6. “Elon may have gotten in over his head, though. His plan to use his SpaceX rockets to fill the sky with thousands of satellites dedicated to providing cheap Internet access ran afoul of the astronomy community, which has decried the impact of the Starlink satellites on observations, both in the optical wavelengths and further down the spectrum in the radio bands. And that’s with only a tiny fraction of the planned constellation deployed; once fully built-out, they fear Starlink will ruin Earth-based observation forever.

    What exactly the final Starlink constellation will look like and what impact it would have on observations depend greatly on the degree to which it can withstand regulatory efforts and market forces. Assuming it does survive and gets built out into a system that more or less resembles the current plan, what exactly will Starlink do? And more importantly, how will it accomplish its stated goals?”

    SpaceX has already received regulatory approval for the entire constellation. While I’m not discounting the concerns of the astronomy community, they have zero control or influence over this effort at this point. The FCC has blessed this effort, and unless SpaceX goes under, it’s happening. They are currently on-schedule and have shown no signs of slowing down.

    1. They also expressed they do not want to harm astronomy and will work on making sure things go well on that side. They are also the company single-handedly reducing the cost of space telescopes, possibly with Starlink making ground telescopes non-sensical.

      1. and here we have the suck that P.T. barnum like to talk about.

        they just eat up everything this man says without actual critical thought at all. musk has done nothing nor will he, if you look at the fact nothing has gotten cheaper its all hype and promises. a house of cards built off of foolish VCs money and government write offs with no real signs of making money. it will fall apart the second those groups wont get the returns that hoped for and go away.

        musk is a narcissistic sociopath with a god complex running a cult of personality. your typical snake oil sales man talking about modern day jet packs and flying cars. his only skills are throwing his money around and taking credit for things he had no hand in doing.

        in the long history of the world people like him never leave the world better off then before they came along.

        so lets make this clear there is no money to be made in space, “space mining” will produce so much product form one rock it will make the price fall through the fool of the market. all space travel is highly destructive to earths environment so expanding the use of it will worsen climate change. we have next to no clue how to live long term on mars and there are good evidence “humans” will be the weakest link with no possible way to fix the problem.

        anyone that really know any of these fields understands Musk if full of Sh&t

        1. Are you serious? SpaceX launch prices are factually lower per-ton than it’s competitors, and much lower than they were before they entered the market ( they forced even their competitors to push prices down, when prices were stagnating before ).

          Not only that, but their *internal costs* per ton are even lower than that, much lower than their competitors ( thanks re-usability ), they don’t lower their prices as low as they could, because why do that if you can make a higher profit thanks to your competitors lagging behind.

          Also, Sx’s business is profitable even if you take out loans, R&D spending, VCs and gov grants, do a little research before blurting things out … The people investing money into them aren’t grandmas being taken advantage of, they are veteran VC firms and companies which wouldn’t if they didn’t have good reasons to do so.

          You act like dev of the first economically sensible re-usable rockets ( Shuttle doesn’t count ) isn’t an immense accomplishment … I have no idea what to say to that …

          They plan to use captured carbon to generate the fuel for Starship, meaning your rant about destroying the environment is non-sense. And they can afford it no issue if they reach even 10% of their cost goals for SS.

          There is already money to be made in space *right now*, just telecom sats, military sats, science sats etc, are a huge market, that is expected to grow if somebody like Sx reduces cost to orbit ( there are hundreds of billions going into ground-based telescope, and a launcher like SS will make building those a dumb idea, pulling all that money into space telescopes. This applies to other industries as well ).

          Space mining definitely makes sense at least for in-orbit manufacturing, it definitely costs less to mine in-situ than to launch materials into orbit. Bringing stuff down to earth is debatable *right now*, but it should start making sense pretty soon at least for rare-earth and precious metals as soon as the price to orbit has decreased enough.

          It’s like you have no information on this beyond the most surface-level glance, and went full grandpa-rant mode anyway. Take your mends, pops.

  7. I’m mostly worried, that with so many satellites, if something goes wrong with a thruster or station keeping control, collisions that could lead to enough debris to ruin an entire orbital path or worse.

    1. Satellites at such a low orbit require active station keeping and deorbit naturally within a few years without station keeping. This significantly reduces the chance of a runaway Kessler Syndrome and if it does happen it’ll clean itself up over time.

      Starlink later plans on putting some satellites at a higher orbit which would take many decades to naturally deorbit, so you do have a valid concern for those

      1. Time?
        The sun will explode with time.

        See things like “reduces the chance of” is to business a rubber stamp to go ahead without due consideration to all the risks.
        If they were to cause Kessler Syndrome event, do you really think they would clean it up?
        No. Space would become the greatest ever super fund site known to man.
        Business NEVER cleans up their mess. That’s for public money.

        Business should be taking the responsibility for poisoning the planet with CFC’s. They invented and profited from them for decades. But it means some very large companies would become unprofitable. The stock market cant have that…
        Instead, they invent new gases which they claim do no damage and market them off the back of the CFC’s they used to make and claim to be green. Shameful !!
        But no one holds them to account. Nope, it’s all you and me to blame.

        Just like if/when a bunch of satellites crash into each other it wil be your and my fault for wanting lower latency internet and we wil ahve to cough up to fix it.

        1. Go check the historical altitude of the ISS. It needs frequent orbit raises from resupply rockets or it would literally fall out of the sky.

          These satellites currently are being placed in a similar (low earth) orbit. They don’t have infinite fuel. When they get low on fuel, they will deorbit themselves to make room for a replacement. If they break or malfunction, and are unable to quickly (weeks/months) deorbit themselves, their low orbit means they will naturally deorbit after ~5 years worst case if they do nothing themselves. If SpaceX dies tomorrow and shut down all communication to the satellites and no one else did anything, it would clean itself up in less than 10 years.

          Superfund sites take decades just to get funding. At this point you are just fear mongering.

  8. Wouldn’t the extra time it takes to send a radio signal up to and back down from the satellites cancel out the speed advantage of lasers in space vs. lasers in glass fibers in the ground? Also, wouldn’t the signal being relayed via multiple satellites add some time to the trip?

    1. Dr. Handley mentions that in the video and says that his calculations show the free-space radio links outperform the terrestrial optical links in almost every case. It’s easy to see why when laser-in-glass has a 60% speed hit compared to laser or radio in free space.

  9. I don’t understand why a laser hop up to a satellite (300km)? plus a greater circle then back down (another 300km) is faster than a laser beam down an optical fibre on the Earth’s surface.

    Anyhow, if Musk is gonna add lasers to the next batch, they should also contain a shark each, for true world domination.

        1. I remember the days when you could go 5 hops continent to continent… wtf happened? I mean a hopcheck used to display a default of 10, because “that’s all everyone would ever need” and now that barely gets you out of your own ISP.

        2. The network in your city has to address a crazy net of connections and places to service. The Starlink network would have a pretty simple architecture in comparison, and much less work to do overall for an equivalent data throughput. Imagine the current road networks if they could just trace straight lines from city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood, and there was rarely an on/off ramp or other road feature.

  10. Can’t we just get some quantum entanglement based network gear already?
    Would kill so many birds with one stone!
    Just imagine being able to kick all of the providers to the curb and have the ability to have dedicated, completely secure, 0 (or effectivly) latency links!
    #WIFIsOLD

    1. I’m still not clear if quantum stuff would actually allow us to wirelessly communicate between entangled atoms at any distance in a way that would be not distinguishable from current networking, or if science magazines abuse the language to make us think that’s what’s being worked on, but what the scientists are actually working on would never have that much usefulness.

      Could be really communicate with Mars with a 0 time delay?

          1. @Greenaum Yeah, it’s sort of my understanding that the vulgarization versions of quantum physics most of us are exposed to are super limited, and break down as soon as you try to go a bit deeper into them, and that there’s really no shortcut to actually understanding the science as it really is, and the analogies we always see use really make sense only as a bare surface idea of what’s going on …

          2. Arthur, yup. I think the problem is that journalists generally know fuck-all science (and very little journalism but that’s enough despair for right now). So you’re getting people who themselves don’t really understand the subject, trying to simplify it down for the layman. What’s usually best is a scientist who knows how to communicate rather than a communicator, or worse, a journalist, who puts 5 minutes into trying to get the science but doesn’t really break his back over it cos he knows most of his readers won’t be able to catch him out. Even less so, if he does a BAD job!

            The severely-myopic leading the blind is a problem in the public knowledge of all sorts of things these days and generally does more harm, spreads more darkness, than it does good. So I try not to do it. But I think I stuck closely enough to the point with this one, without too much of a diversion into metaphors, to make it actually useful. I hope so.

    2. China has already done this. Quantum entanglement based communication from space to earth. Not only do you benefit from the instantaneity, but it is the most secure. No traditional interception method is even possible.

      This would make all comments above obsolete.

      1. OK I thought of one that I think sticks enough to the point…

        Imagine me and you have a magic coin each. They’re entangled. Whenever we toss the coins at the same time (and ONLY if we toss them, not if we do other things with them), one will always come up heads, the other tails.

        So we agree at, say, 9am NYC time to toss our coins, wherever we are in the world. Mine comes up heads, and I phone you, and you tell me yours was tails! We do it again at half past nine, and ten, and whenever we want. It always works.

        But only when they’re tossed. If there’s no coin toss, there’s no connection. It’s the coin toss that powers the magic, but also what destroys any information.

        So the upshot is, that “information” is being instantly transmitted at the moment of coin-tossing. But we can’t set WHICH information. A head always is matched by a tail, yes. But unless I can force my coin to come up one way, I can’t force yours to come up the other. So the only “information” I can send is a completely random result. A matching pair, but a matching pair, two sides, of a random event.

        Coin tosses are inherently pretty random, and quantum processses of the type we’re talking about are even more random than that. So you’re sending a form of “information” but no USEFUL signal. Like a radio transmitter that can only transmit white noise, or an email that’s always just random 1s and 0s. It’s sent instantly, but it isn’t information. So it’s of no use for communications.

  11. put SoC’s, a lot of memory and some storage on those satellites and there’s a network of 40,000+ vaccum-cooled, high-end servers in orbit for Tesla to use for their autopilot training :)

  12. Remember back in 2000 when the Telecoms BEGGED congress for no taxes for 10 years so they could install Fiber Optic? And even do last mile to the customer? What did they do? They keep all the; fiber dark, recreated the Ma Bell monopoly, and throttling ground lines. Then the 3g and LTE unlimited data… throttled. And monopoly of all Cell providers. Now the want to push out 5g. For what? An upgrade that doesn’t do crap.

    Starlink sounds wonderful that is why the Swamp and the Telcomm barons will kill it.

    1. Yeah, that’s not what we’re talking about … Knowing what’s going on in a different exchange from a given exchange, faster than others, can make you huge bucks. That’s what everybody’s excited about Starlink for.

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