New regulatory filings from SpaceX indicate a new Starlink Gen2 System that makes upgrades to its Starlink satellites. The new Starlink satellites are reportedly heavier and capable of generating more power than the original satellites.
In the paperwork for the new filing with the FCC, Starlink cited the potential demand for satellite-based broadband Internet as one major reason for the upgrade:
“While the original constellation provides unprecedented capacity for a satellite system, the demand for more broadband continues to grow unabated and the need for user connectivity has never been more important.”
The upgraded satellites are meant to supplement the capabilities that Starlink already has. According to data from tests using Speedtest, a popular tool for testing Internet speeds, Starlink is already getting close to broadband speeds, especially when compared to competitors like ViaSat. SpaceX already has more than 1,700 Starlink satellites in orbit.
SpaceX says that the preferred configuration for the Starlink Gen2 System satellites would have 29,988 satellites in orbit at staggered altitudes ranging from 340 to 614 kilometers. Alternatively, it could have a round 30,000 satellites at altitudes ranging from 328 to 614 kilometers. This comparatively low altitude for Internet satellites would allow for lower latency and an overall improved global coverage.
It now plans to launch some satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit to allow for better coverage of polar regions like Alaska and the far north of Canada.
SpaceX says that the risk of of collisions between its satellites and other objects in space is mitigated with an advanced propulsion system that can operate independently of the rest of the satellite. The existing Starlink satellites in orbit can already maneuver to avoid collisions and the propulsion system can deorbit malfunctioning satellites so that it burns up in the atmosphere.
SpaceX did briefly get into it with OneWeb after OneWeb’s false claim that a Starlink satellite nearly collided with a satellite that was being launched. According to SpaceX, the two satellites did not pass one another as closely as OneWeb claimed.
“Although the design of these protective features is still being finalized, SpaceX has improved redundancy in the power and propulsion systems,” SpaceX says of the Gen2 System’s ability to avoid any possible future collisions.
According to the regulatory filing, SpaceX plans to launch future Gen2 System satellites on Starship. Although Starship is still under development, it will be capable of sending more satellites into orbit in a single launch. Using Starship will also allow the satellites to maneuver to their destination orbits within weeks rather than the months that it currently takes. SpaceX currently launches Starlink satellites on the Falcon 9 rocket and recently resumed these launches after a two-month hiatus.
SpaceX president Gwynn Shotwell recently said that Starlink should be capable of global coverage by September. By tapping a market that could be worth as much as $1 trillion, SpaceX could attain Elon Musk’s ultimate goal of sending people to Mars. Musk has said that he might spin Starlink off with an IPO at some point in the future once it becomes more predictable with generating revenue. Its “Better than Nothing Beta” currently has 90,000 users in 12 countries, with a waiting list of more than 500,000 people who made a deposit for Starlink access when it comes out of beta.