SpaceX Starlink Satellite Internet Update 2020
It’s the space race, but unlike the 50s, this race’s goal is to connect the world—including rural areas—to the internet. Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet project aims to bring affordable, fast internet to underserved parts of the US and the world.
The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) 2016 report found that 62 percent of Americans have only one choice for “fixed advanced telecommunications capability.”1 And when they looked at rural areas specifically, the number of Americans stuck with just one internet service provider (ISP) to choose from rose to 87 percent.1
SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said that while existing ISPs are improving, it’s still hard for them to reach rural areas. But “Starlink . . . will cover all parts of the globe.”2
Okay, that sounds great and all, but how will SpaceX and Starlink give rural Americans a better, faster, and cheaper way to connect to the internet? Some of the details remain murky as we wait to try out the service, but here’s what we do know about Starlink satellite internet so far.
How to sign up for the Starlink beta
The Starlink beta is currently active, but you can sign up for email updates on the official site. This likely includes updates on whether Starlink service will be in your area, so we recommend entering your email and home address.
How much will Starlink internet cost?
Current beta testers reported an equipment cost of $499 for the antenna and router—and the same email lists a monthly price of $99.17 Sadly, that’s more than the original guesstimate cost of $80 a month,2,4,11 but it’s still far cheaper than some of Viasat and HughesNet’s higher-end plans.
To compare, a satellite internet plan from Viasat ranges from $30 to $150 a month for download speeds of 12 Mbps up to 100 Mbps, and HughesNet plans range from about $60 to $150 a month for download speeds of 25 Mbps.
- Starlink price: $99/mo.
- Equipment cost: $499 for the phased array antenna and router
One other interesting thing to note is that the beta invite email doesn’t mention data caps.17 Data caps are a huge deal with satellite internet and are often much smaller than you’d find with traditional ISPs—Viasat offers the most monthly data of 150 GB.
Does this mean Starlink satellite internet won’t put a cap on its users’ data? We can only hope.
How fast is Starlink satellite internet?
Beta test invites promise speeds of 50–150 Mbps, which is a decent starting point for Starlink’s satellite internet service.
And back in 2019, an initial beta test partnership between the US Air Force and Starlink, called Global Lightning, saw download speeds of 610 Mbps.5
Global Lightning started in early 2018 and used two Starlink satellites to send information to terminals inside a C-12 transport plane while it was in flight.
Recent speed tests for Starlink internet that shows download speeds of about 45 Mbps and upload speeds of about 5 Mbps, plus latency of 75 ms.
Those results may not seem stellar, but remember, Starlink is still in the process of deploying satellites and ground stations while working out the kinks in its beta test. As more satellites reach Earth’s orbit and more ground stations are built, Starlink users will likely see improved download speeds and lower latency.
In a recent “Better Than Nothing” beta test invite from Starlink, users were told to expect download speeds of 50–150 Mbps and latency of 20–40 ms.17
Those speeds and latency range are light years ahead of any HughesNet satellite internet plan, which caps out at 25 Mbps and typically sees latency up to 500–600 ms. Plus, those download speeds are also faster than most of Viasat’s internet plans, which caps at 100 Mbps.
So . . . pardon our language, but we have to say it: Shut up, Starlink, and take our money!
Starlink will have less latency
Speaking of latency, Elon Musk remarked in a SATELLITE 2020 keynote speech that he thinks Starlink will have about 20-millisecond (ms) latency.14 Those recent speed test results show latency around 75 ms, and the email beta testers received promises 20–40 ms latency.17 So Starlink is right on track to fill Musk’s promise.
If you were wondering, latency is the time it takes for your internet signal to travel from your computer to your ISP, to the website server, and then back to you.
With traditional satellite internet, that means your signal has to travel 22,200 miles to reach the satellite, then back down to the website server, back up to the satellite, and back to you. You can bet that takes a hot minute, which is why satellite internet’s latency is typically between 500 and 600 ms.
But Starlink satellites will sit about 342 miles above the Earth’s surface.4 That’s much closer than other satellites, which means there’s much less distance for your internet signal to travel to a Starlink satellite.
And you know what that means: less latency. (We’re cheering, can you hear us?)
How will Starlink internet work?
Starlink satellites will sit closer to the Earth to reduce latency and use lasers to boost internet speeds.
Elon Musk and SpaceX hope that Starlink’s unique technology will help it fill the connectivity gap between urban and rural areas.
Right now, rural areas face challenges when it comes to getting internet access because of the massive cost of infrastructure. That means the cost of digging trenches, laying cable or fiber, and even dealing with property rights disputes.
But Starlink’s satellites will beam an internet signal directly to a gateway or user terminal on the ground.3 That means there’s much less infrastructure needed to get that internet signal to rural homes.
To top it off, SpaceX says its Starlink internet will be faster and have less latency than current satellite internet. But how?
Each Starlink satellite will communicate with four other satellites using lasers. That means they’ll beam data across the globe at almost the speed of light—a speed that only fiber-optic internet comes close to matching.4
How many Starlink satellites are in orbit?
With over 800 satellites in orbit currently, Starlink hopes to create a megaconstellation of 42,000 satellites.
At the time we’re writing this, SpaceX has launched more than 800 Starlink satellites into space.12
That means Starlink surpassed the 400 satellites Musk said need to be in orbit for “minor” internet service coverage—and still has a ways to go to get to the 42,000 total satellites SpaceX is now hoping to launch.7, 8
Back here on Earth, Starlink set up six ground stations to provide fixed satellite service.15 These first stations are located in the following towns:
- Hawthorne, California
- Conrad, Montana
- Greenville, Pennsylvania
- North Bend, Washington
- Redmond, Washington
- Merrillan, Wisconsin
SpaceX originally filed a request with the FCC for 1 million Earth stations. But thanks to the massive number of beta test applicants (700,000+), the company recently amended its request to ask the FCC for permission to build 5 million Earth stations.16 Newly requested Earth station sites include some of the following towns:
- Limestone, Maine
- Panaca, Nevada
- Beekmantown, New York
- Kalama, Washington
- Evanston, Wyoming
What equipment will Starlink satellite internet use?
You’ll connect to Starlink satellites through a ground terminal that looks like a “UFO on a stick.”
It wouldn’t be satellite internet without satellites, and Starlink has a ton of them. Each satellite is about as big as your office desk and weighs close to 500 pounds—that means the January 2020 Falcon 9 mission carried 30,000 pounds of satellites into space!4
60 Starlink satellites are flat-packed into a Falcon 9 nose cone.
Source: Elon Musk/Twitter
But what about the satellite dish that sits on your roof? We’ve heard Musk describe these, also called terminals, as a “UFO on a stick,” but that brings to mind all kinds of ideas.
Looks like a thin, flat, round UFO on a stick. Starlink Terminal has motors to self-adjust optimal angle to view sky. Instructions are simply:— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 7, 2020
- Plug in socket
- Point at sky
These instructions work in either order. No training required.
Luckily, Reddit user darkpenguin22 did some sleuthing around Merrillan, Wisconsin, and shared photos of some Starlink equipment, including the infamous “UFO on a stick” ground terminals. Looks pretty sleek, doesn’t it?
Darkpenguin22 also managed to grab a full shot of the Starlink ground terminal equipment, including the small user terminals next to the white, spherical antenna radomes, which protect sensitive equipment. Look at how tiny the user terminals look next to the radomes!
Musk originally said the ground terminals look like a “small- to medium-sized pizza,” which led to the internet calling these terminals and gateways “pizza boxes.”9 We can kinda see what he means . . . if we squint a little.
How much will Starlink equipment cost?
Early guesses about how much Starlink equipment would cost ranged from $100–$300. But beta test email invites listed a price of $499 for the phased array antenna and router.17
That’s likely an upfront payment, which probably means you’ll own your Starlink internet equipment outright—no rental fees required. And to compare, if you wanted to buy your HughesNet or Viasat equipment, you’d pay a similar one-time fee of $449.99 or $299, respectively.
When can you get Starlink satellite internet?
Look for Starlink satellite internet service in mid-2020 at the earliest and at the cost of about $80 a month.
We’re told this is the year we’ll get Starlink satellite internet—though we don’t yet have a month or even day just yet. SpaceX’s president said we can expect to see Starlink’s internet service open up to Americans in mid-2020.10 So far, this remains the goal even as 2020 winds down.
If it’s going to make its target release date, SpaceX needs to launch six to eight batches of satellites, plus finish the design and engineer the user terminals.10
Along with getting its satellites in orbit and finalizing the terminal, SpaceX has to file requests and gain approval from the US’s FCC and United Nations’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for its Starlink plans.
Though it’s faced some difficulties gaining approval, Starlink finally landed a go-ahead from the FCC to operate a satellite system of 4,425 satellites and provide satellite internet service worldwide.13 That’s a step in the right direction.
It’s likely Starlink’s original launch date is delayed thanks to this year’s series of (unfortunate) events. But if you’re itching to get your hands on Starlink satellite internet, you can always sign up for the beta.
The beta puts us one step closer to an actual launch date. Prior to opening up the beta, Starlink let the US Air Force test its internet service with its Global Lightning program and Musk himself got to test out Starlink internet in his own home.
Yup, Musk sent a tweet through space using the Starlink satellites currently in orbit. Is that cool or what?
Source: Elon Musk/Twitter
Where will Starlink be available?
SpaceX’s first goal is to bring speedy satellite internet to rural areas in the US and Canada. After that, Musk and his company hope to expand service to other parts of the world.
This plan for world domin—er, internet connectivity—would require SpaceX to launch about 2,800 more satellites—but at higher altitudes between 700 and 800 miles above the Earth.4 And hey, Alaskans, Musk is prepared to show you some love too by launching satellites that would orbit over the Earth’s poles.
We’re all sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for Starlink to be revealed. So check back here to see if a launch date has been announced.
Recap: Will Starlink satellite internet service be good?
We’re all eager to see whether Starlink lives up to the hype, and so far beta test results look promising. To recap, here are some of the key points we know or can guess at so far:
- When will Starlink internet be available? Right now, Starlink is still aiming to start service in 2020 for the US and Canada. You can get a head start and sign up for updates when Starlink becomes available in your area.
- How much will Starlink internet cost? $99 a month, plus $499 for the antenna and router.17
- How many Starlink satellites are in orbit? As of October 27, 2020, over 800 Starlink satellites are in orbit.
- How many Starlink satellites will be in orbit when the launches are done? SpaceX has filed requests to launch a total of 42,000 satellites so far.
|Provider||Monthly price||Download speeds||Learn more|
|Viasat Internet||$30–$150*||12–100 Mbps||View Plans|
|HughesNet Internet||$59.99–$149.99†||25 Mbps||View Plans|
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “2016 Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report.” December 2016. Accessed March 4, 2020.
- Jackie Wattles, CNN, “Here’s What You Need to Know About SpaceX’s Starlink Internet Service.” October 2019. Accessed March 4, 2020.
- Patricia Cooper, Senate.gov, “Statement of Patricia Cooper, Vice President, Satellite Government Affairs, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX).” May 2017. Accessed March 4, 2020.
- Dave Mosher, Business Insider, “Elon Musk Just Revealed New Details About Starlink, a Plan to Surround Earth With 12,000 High-Speed Internet Satellites. Here’s How It Might Work.” May 2019. Accessed March 4, 2020.
- Joey Roulette, Reuters, “Musk’s Satellite Project Testing Encrypted Internet With Military Planes.” October 2019. Accessed March 4, 2020.
- Caleb Henry, SpaceNews, “SpaceX Launches Fourth Batch of Starlink Satellites, Tweaks Satellite Design.” January 2020. Accessed March 4, 2020.
- Tariq Malik, Space.com, “SpaceX’s Starlink Broadband Service Will Begin in 2020: Report.” October 2019. Accessed March 4, 2020.
- Mike Wall, Space.com, “SpaceX’s Starlink Constellation Could Swell by 30,000 More Satellites.” October 2019. Accessed March 4, 2020.
- Mike Brown, Inverse, “How SpaceX Starlink Works: Connecting, Price, Launch Date for Elon Musk’s Internet.” January 2020. Accessed March 4, 2020.
- Sandra Erwin, SpaceNews, “SpaceX Plans to Start Offering Starlink Broadband Services in 2020.” October 2019. Accessed March 4, 2020.
- Cliff O., YouTube, “SpaceX Seattle 2015.” January 2015. Accessed March 4, 2020.
- Stephen Clark, Spaceflight Now “SpaceX Adds Another 60 Satellites to Starlink Network,” October 2020. Accessed October 27, 2020.
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “FCC Authorizes SpaceX to Provide Broadband Satellite Services.” March 2018. Accessed March 4, 2020.
- Via Satellite Magazine, YouTube, “Elon Musk, Founder & Chief Engineer, SpaceX – SATELLITE 2020 Opening Day Keynote.” March 2020. Accessed August 10, 2020.
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “FCC Pending Applications List By File Number.” August 2020. Accessed August 10, 2020.
- Michael Sheetz, CNBC, “SpaceX Says Starlink Internet Has ‘Extraordinary Demand,’ With Nearly 700,000 Interested in Service.” August 2020. Accessed August 10, 2020.
- FourthEchelon19, Reddit, “I Just Officially Received an Email Invite to the Starlink Beta,” October 2020. Accessed October 27, 2020.