SpaceX Delivers Promise and Adds Lasers to Starlink Satellites

SpaceX had made a promise, at the end of July, to improve Starlink’s connection to lasers. Yesterday (24), the COO and president of the company founded by Elon Musk, Gwynne Shotwell, confirmed they are fulfilling this commitment — that’s why there have been no new satellite launches of the internet platform since June 30th.

“We’re launching a series of laser terminals into space right now,” said Shotwell. “That’s what we’ve been focusing on for the past six to eight weeks — we wanted the next wave [de satélites] it already had laser terminals on it”.

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Image shows a SpaceX satellite that received laser terminals for Starlink
SpaceX satellites will have laser terminals to improve communication and data transfer with stations on Earth. Image: AleksandrMorrisovic/Shutterstock

Starlink is SpaceX’s satellite internet platform, powered by a constellation of nearly two thousand satellites positioned by the company in low Earth orbit. The service is currently available in public beta in 11 countries (US, Canada, UK, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, France, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark); closed tests in two (Ireland and Chile); and finally, in the planning phase for Mexico in October 2021.

Basically, laser terminals allow satellites to have better communication with each other and with data transfer stations located on Earth. But its main benefit is cost savings without loss of service quality.

That’s because, for every wave of Starlink satellites launched into space, SpaceX has to build at least one data transfer station on Earth. The problem is that not all terrain favors this construction, so laser terminals in theory will allow more satellites to “talk” to the same stations.

Shotwell’s statements were made during the current issue of the Space Symposium. The COO took the opportunity to warn that this “stop” in launches should not last long: according to it, SpaceX plans to take a new wave of satellites in three weeks aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, but without committing to a specific date or inform how many satellites go into orbit this time.

Another point touched by her was the risk of collision between satellites: today, there are just over 1,600 active satellites (more than 1,700 launched) in space, belonging to the company. However, the documentation completed by her with the government authorities speaks of “a constellation of 45 thousand satellites”.

According to a survey by the Astronautical Research Group, Starlink’s satellites are involved in 1,600 near-collision events per week, whether between its own satellites or those of other companies, such as Amazon or OneWeb.

Shotwell said SpaceX is always dedicating resources and thinking “non-stop” about new safety methods to avoid such crashes, underscoring the autonomous collision detection and automatic course correction capabilities of its products.

“The worst thing in the world would be a collision like that,” she said.

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