Google has announced a deal with SpaceX to install Starlink terminals at Google Cloud’s data centers. It said that it would like to bring cloud services to Starlink customers and use the satellite Internet service to improve speed for enterprise customers even if they have an established presence in areas that have previously been neglected by Internet service providers. SpaceX plans to install the first terminal at a data center in Albany, Ohio.
“Combining Starlink’s high-speed, low-latency broadband with Google’s infrastructure and capabilities provides global organizations with the secure and fast connection that modern organizations expect,” SpaceX President Glynn Shotwell said in a press release.
The combination of Starlink and Google Cloud should be available by the end of 2021. A statement from Google indicated that they plan to use Starlink’s promise of better Internet service in previously neglected areas to deliver more secure data delivery to remote regions.
Google had previously invested $900 million in SpaceX, banking on its ability to develop its satellite Internet constellation. SpaceX currently has 1,550 Starlink satellites in orbit. The final constellation could have as many as 42,000 satellites and the company launches more every couple of weeks despite complaints from competitors that Starlink satellites could collide with their satellites.
The risk of collisions between objects in orbit has long been recognized as an issue among space industry insiders. Starlink satellites are capable of maneuvering to avoid collisions, but there is still the risk of defunct satellites and spent rocket stages colliding with still-operational hardware and valuable assets like the International Space Station.
Serious proposals to deal with the problem include D-Sat’s plan to attach a small “retro-rocket” pack to satellites that can be used to deorbit the satellite when its useful life is over. Elon Musk has said that Starship could be used to corral defunct satellites once it becomes fully operational. NASA and SpaceX have also signed a deal to share information on orbiting assets owned by either party.
A report from OneWeb that a Starlink satellite nearly collided with one of its own during OneWeb’s launch was disputed by SpaceX and the latest updates indicate that OneWeb may have exaggerated. Longtime Elon Musk rival Jeff Bezos’ Project Kuiper also recently launched satellites on a ULA rocket in lieu of Blue Origin’s rockets, which are still a work in progress. Amazon Web Services, a rival for Google Cloud, plans to use Project Kuiper to enhance its own cloud computing services.
SpaceX currently has 10,000 testers for the “Better than Nothing Beta” phase, many of whom live in the northern United States and southern Canada and say that the terminals work well even in harsh winter conditions. Elon Musk recently said that 500,000 customers have at least made a deposit for access when the Internet service is ready to come out of beta.
Starlink’s enterprise partners also include Microsoft Azure, which tapped SpaceX, SES, and KSAT to provide satellite access for the Azure Modular Datacenter last October. The Azure Modular Datacenter is designed to provide mobility and easy access to both communications and data even in a natural disaster that impacts the performance of local infrastructure. Starlink had previously demonstrated its ability to provide connectivity in a disaster by assisting Washington State’s Emergency Department with combatting last year’s wildfires.