SpaceX had launches of satellites for its Internet-providing Starlink constellation on pause for a couple of months. Now it is ready to start launching the satellites in August, with two launches scheduled from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base.
As normal for a dedicated Starlink launch, the two launches are slated to carry 60 satellites each. The first is slated for August 10 and the second is tentatively scheduled for August 16.
While SpaceX hasn’t said why it had the launches of Starlink satellites on hold, it has faced regulatory challenges from competitors like ViaSat. Most recently, a panel of judges on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a bid by ViaSat to put a freeze on Starlink launches pending a challenge of the FCC’s handling of the potential environmental impact.
SpaceX has completed construction and launch of its preliminary batch of 1,600 satellites with a launch of 60 satellites on May 26 and three satellites as a replacement for a cancelled satellite launch on its Transporter-2 mission on June 30.
SpaceX President Gwynn Shotwell has said that Starlink will be capable of providing global coverage for Internet service by September. The company currently operates a “Better than Nothing Beta” in eleven countries in North America, Europe and Oceania, as well as Australia. Most recently, it negotiated a pilot program to provide services to remote communities in the Latin America country of Chile. As normal for Elon Musk’s companies, though, regulatory approval for Starlink could turn into a headache because it has to be done country by country and Russia has already considered fining anyone who uses Starlink.
Elon Musk says that the waiting list for access to Starlink when it gets out of beta includes 500,000 possible customers, which indicates pent-up demand for an affordable satellite Internet service in areas that have previously been neglected when investing in infrastructure for Internet service. “Traditional” ISPs have either neglected isolated or low-income communities, or offered only expensive, slow, and unreliable options. Some countries like the United States and the United Kingdom are currently attempting to solve that problem with programs to develop broadband Internet service for these neglected areas, though the United States’ Federal Communications Commission did recently issue clarification for what the funds for its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund can be used for.
The FCC has approved the launch of up to 12,000 Starlink satellites, though SpaceX says that the final number of satellites in the Starlink constellation could be as high as 42,000. SpaceX is currently constructing a dedicated factory for the manufacture of the satellites in the Austin area as part of Elon Musk’s considerable push for his companies to invest in manufacturing capacity in Texas.
He’s serious enough about it that he has referred to Austin as “America’s next boom town” and called for the development of more housing in the area as part of his efforts to attract qualified employees. Tesla alone is expected to add 10,000 jobs in the area with the construction of a factory that will manufacture the Cybertruck and Tesla Semi.
Gwynn Shotwell says that the global broadband Internet market could be worth as much as $1 trillion – money that SpaceX could use for Elon Musk’s ultimate goal of sending people to Mars if it can grab a respectable share of that market, which is likely considering how many people are already eager to gain access. Musk has also floated the possibility of an IPO for Starlink if he can establish that it can be profitable.