SpaceX Adds 3D Sky Scanner to Starlink App

Starlink has added a 3D sky scanner that can check for obstacles that might block signals from Starlink satellites from reaching a customer’s terminal to the Starlink app. The app generates a virtual dome that simulates the sky above the terminal and flags possible obstructions.

This Starlink user may have a lot of trees that need to be trimmed before Starlink becomes useful — one of the possible drawbacks of a satellite Internet service. At least he doesn’t need to ask Tesla for a flamethrower.

This is important for new customers who need to choose the best place to place their terminals. Possible obstacles include nearby trees and walls that might get in the way of a radio signal. The old version of the app required access to the mobile device’s cameras in order to create a “map” of the vicinity that included possible obstacles.

The color code for the app includes “blue” for an unobstructed view of the sky and “red” for obstructions that can block the signal. The Starlink constellation currently includes 1,650 satellites out of the 12,000 that has been approved by the FCC. SpaceX says that the constellation could increase to as high as 42,000 satellites, which would just about nark any worries of a terminal not being able to reach at least one satellite.

SpaceX is nearly ready to resume launches of Starlink satellites after a two-month hiatus. It normally launches more satellites on a Falcon 9 rocket once very two weeks. President Gwynn Shotwell has said that Starlink could provide global coverage by September and it already operates in 11 countries in North America, Europe, and Australia. Regulatory hurdles appear to be among the chief holdup and can range from challenges from competitors to Russia’s threats of fines for residents who use Starlink.

Starlink currently has 90,000 customers and, according to Elon Musk, a waitlist of more than 500,000 possible customers who have put down deposits for access to the satellite Internet service when it gets out of beta. Current beta testers report excellent speed even in harsh winter weather, though as the summer hit, they also reported that the terminals will shut down in some U.S. states like Arizona that get especially high temperatures. Access to Starlink currently costs $99 per month with a $499 upfront fee for the kit that includes a terminal and the equipment needed to set it up.

SpaceX has said that it’s working on a lower-cost plan for low-income families, though it has little interest in the tiered plans that other ISPs have. It is also working on reducing the cost of manufacturing the kit, which it currently takes a loss on. SpaceX has also shown an interest in working with school districts, Latin American countries, and Native American tribes to provide early access for low-income users and isolated communities who could benefit from the opportunities presented by improved Internet access.

The latest update for the Starlink app also includes a “dark mode” and monitoring of how often the terminal loses its connection to the satellites. The app is required for new users to set up their terminals and connect to the satellite constellation.