SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network will start streaming the service directly to smartphones next year, if all goes according to plan.
Elon Musk and T-Mobile Chairman and CEO Mike Sievert announced the plan Thursday night (Aug. 25) during a webcast event at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in South Texas. The two companies are teaming up on a project called Coverage Above and Beyond, which aims to bring smartphone connectivity to T-Mobile customers just about anywhere.
“I think it’s really a game-changer,” Musk said. “In a nutshell, there are no more dead zones.”
Related: SpaceX’s Starlink megaconstellation launches in photos
Today’s landscape has many dead zones – regions away from cell towers where smartphone users cannot receive a signal. Indeed, there are about 500,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers) in the United States that are not covered by any cellular network, Sievert said.
Coverage Above and Beyond aims to solve this problem by exploiting Stellar Link, the broadband megaconstellation that SpaceX is building in low Earth orbit. The company has already launched more than 3,000 Starlink spacecraft to date, but none of the currently operational satellites live up to the recently announced job; Coverage above and beyond will require Starlink version 2, which is expected to debut next year.
The Version 2 craft will be 23 feet (7 meters) long and will tip the scales at 1.25 tons (1,130 kilograms), compared to around 660 pounds (300 kg) for current Starlink satellites. It’s so big that SpaceX will need to launch them on Starshipits giant next-gen transportation system, rather than its workhorse Falcon 9. (Musk said, however, that SpaceX could create an interim “mini” version 2 compatible with Falcon 9 if Spatialshipthe development of is significantly delayed.)
But providing coverage above and beyond is such a difficult task that SpaceX will have to optimize Version 2 even further, fitting each of them with a special antenna about 16.5 feet (5 m) across. , Musk said.
“We believe these are the most advanced phased array antennas in the world,” Musk said.
“Antennas need to be extremely advanced because they need to pick up a very quiet signal from your cell phone,” he added. “And you can imagine, this signal has to travel 500 miles [800 km] then get caught by a satellite traveling 17,000 miles [27,350 km] one o’clock. And the satellite has to compensate for the Doppler effect of moving so fast. So it’s really quite a difficult technical challenge. But we’ve got it working in the lab, and we’re confident it will work in the field.”
If coverage above and beyond works, T-Mobile customers will be able to access Starlink connectivity with their current phones, via T-Mobile’s existing spectrum; they won’t need to buy any new special equipment, Sievert said. But he and Musk made sure to set expectations at the right level.
Starlink coverage is not intended to replace tower service; rather, it’s intended to “provide basic coverage to areas that are currently completely dead,” Musk said. Above and Beyond coverage will provide a total of around 2 to 4 megabits per “cellular area”, he added, which translates to 1,000 to 2,000 concurrent voice calls, or hundreds of thousands of text messages. simultaneous. So it won’t be a great option for online gaming or video chatting, at least in the near future.
The vision could, however, become more ambitious. For example, SpaceX would like to expand its direct-to-handset Starlink service beyond the borders of the United States.
“This is an open invitation to carriers around the world,” Musk said. “Please contact us, and we’d love to partner with you and enable this globally.”
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).
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