A mysterious satellite hack has victims far beyond Ukraine

A mysterious satellite hack has victims far beyond Ukraine

Enlarge (credit: bjdlzx | Getty Images)

More than 22,000 miles above Earth, the KA-SAT is locked in orbit. Traveling at 7,000 miles per hour, in sync with the planet’s rotation, the satellite beams high-speed Internet down to people across Europe. Since 2011, it has helped homeowners, businesses, and militaries get online. However, as Russian troops moved into Ukraine during the early hours of February 24, satellite Internet connections were disrupted. A mysterious cyberattack against the satellite’s ground infrastructure—not the satellite itself—plunged tens of thousands of people into Internet darkness.

Among them were parts of Ukraine’s defenses. “It was a really huge loss in communications in the very beginning of war,” Viktor Zhora, a senior official at Ukraine’s cybersecurity agency, the State Services for Special Communication and Information Protection (SSSCIP), reportedly said two weeks later. He did not provide any more details, and SSSCIP did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment. But the attack against the satellite Internet system, owned by US company Viasat since last year, had even wider ramifications. People using satellite Internet connections were knocked offline all across Europe, from Poland to France.

Almost a month after the attack, the disruptions continue. Thousands still remain offline in Europe—around 2,000 wind turbines are still disconnected in Germany—and companies are racing to replace broken modems or fix connections with updates. Multiple intelligence agencies, including those in the US and Europe, are also investigating the attack. The Viasat hack is arguably the largest publicly known cyberattack to take place since Russia invaded Ukraine, and it stands out for its impact beyond Ukraine’s borders. But questions about the details of the attack, its purpose, and who carried it out remain—although experts have their suspicions.

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FCC lets SpaceX cut satellite altitude to improve Starlink speed and latency

A SpaceX Starlink user terminal, also known as a satellite dish, seen against a city's skyline.

Enlarge / A SpaceX Starlink user terminal/satellite dish. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX today was granted permission to use a lower orbit for Starlink satellites, as regulators agreed with SpaceX that the change will improve broadband speed and latency while making it easier to minimize orbital debris. In granting SpaceX’s request, the Federal Communications Commission dismissed opposition from Viasat, Hughes, Dish Network, OneWeb, the Amazon subsidiary known as Kuiper, and other satellite companies that claimed the change would cause too much interference with other systems.

In 2018, SpaceX received FCC approval to launch 4,425 broadband satellites at orbits of 1,110 km to 1,325 km. Today’s FCC order granting SpaceX’s license-change request lowers the altitude for 2,814 of the satellites, letting them orbit in the 540-570 km range. Today’s FCC order will also let SpaceX use a lower elevation angle for antennas on user terminals and gateway Earth stations.

“Based on our review, we agree with SpaceX that the modification will improve the experience for users of the SpaceX service, including in often-underserved polar regions,” the FCC order said. “We conclude that the lower elevation angle of its earth station antennas and lower altitude of its satellites enables a better user experience by improving speeds and latency.”

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Dishy McFlatface to become “fully mobile,” allowing Starlink use away from home

A Starlink satellite dish sits on the ground in a clearing in the middle of a forest.

Enlarge / A Starlink satellite dish in the Idaho panhandle’s Coeur d’Alene National Forest. (credit: Wandering-coder)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk expects the Starlink satellite broadband service to be “fully mobile” later in 2021, allowing customers to use the satellite dishes away from home.

“Yeah, should be fully mobile later this year, so you can move it anywhere or use it on an RV or truck in motion. We need a few more satellite launches to achieve comp[l]ete coverage & some key software upgrades,” Musk wrote on Twitter Thursday.

SpaceX revealed a portion of its mobile plans last month when it asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to deploy a modified version of its user terminal to moving vehicles. But while that application is for a not-yet-released version of the terminal with “mountings that allow them to be installed on vehicles, vessels, and aircraft,” Musk’s comment about Starlink being “fully mobile” later this year was in reference to the standard terminal that has been deployed to beta customers the past few months.

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SpaceX plans Starlink broadband for cars, boats, and planes

Off-road vehicle driving up a road on a hill on a foggy morning.

Enlarge / Cars could eventually get satellite Internet from SpaceX Starlink. (credit: Getty Images | Ozgur Donmaz)

SpaceX on Friday asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to deploy Starlink satellite broadband to passenger cars and other moving vehicles.

The application describes SpaceX’s plans for Earth Stations in Motion (ESIMs) for automobiles, ships, and aircraft. SpaceX said it is “seek[ing] authority to deploy and operate these earth stations… throughout the United States and its territories… in the territorial waters of the United States and throughout international waters worldwide, and… on US-registered aircraft operating worldwide and non-US-registered aircraft operating in US airspace.”

“Granting this application would serve the public interest by authorizing a new class of ground-based components for SpaceX’s satellite system that will expand the range of broadband capabilities available to moving vehicles throughout the United States and to moving vessels and aircraft worldwide,” SpaceX told the FCC. Internet users are no longer “willing to forego connectivity while on the move, whether driving a truck across the country, moving a freighter from Europe to a US port, or while on a domestic or international flight,” SpaceX said.

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SpaceX launches 60 new Starlink satellites, while Starship moves closer to being able to launch up to 400 at a time

SpaceX has launched another batch of its Starlink satellites – the usual complement of 60 of the low Earth orbit spacecraft, which will join the more than 1,000 already making up the existing constellation. This is the fifth launch of Starlink satellites for SpaceX this year, and the 20th overall.

Earlier this year, SpaceX opened up Starlink access to anyone in a current or planned service area via a pre-order reservation system with a refundable up-front deposit. The company aims to continue launches like this one apace throughout 2021 in order to get the constellation to the point where it can serve customers over a much larger portion of the globe. SpaceX COO and President Gwynne Shotwell has previously said that the company expects it should have coverage over much of the globe at a constellation size of around 1,200 satellites, but the company has plans to launch more than 30,000 to fully build out its network capacity and speed.

While SpaceX is making good progress on Starlink with its Falcon 9 launcher, it’s also looking ahead to Starship as a key driver of the constellation’s growth. Starship, SpaceX’s next-generation launch vehicle currently under development in South Texas, will be able to deliver 400 Starlink satellites at a time to orbit, and it’s also being designed with full reusability and fast turnaround in mind.

The ability to launch more than six times as many satellites per mission would help SpaceX a lot in terms of the speed with which they can deploy the Starlink network, as well as the overall cost of the endeavor – assuming their cost projections about Starlink’s general affordability are even close to accurate once it becomes a high-volume production rocket. That’s definitely still at least a few years off, but SpaceX did mark a milestone on Wednesday that bodes well for its chances of making that happen.

The company’s latest Starship prototype performed its most successful test launch to date on Wednesday, taking off from SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas development site and flying to around 32,000 feet before executing a ‘flop’ maneuver and then reorienting itself for a soft vertical landing. The test rocket also blew up after sitting on the pad for just under 10 minutes, but despite that spectacular ending, the test proved out a lot of the basic engineering work that SpaceX needs to make Starship a reality.

Starlink is a huge, multi-year effort, so even if Starship is still a few years away from high-volume production and flight, it should still have a significant impact on the project overall. And Starlink, once operational and fully deployed, will require regular maintenance – individual satellites in the network are only really designed to be operational for ups to five years max, with regular replacements required to keep things running smoothly.


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Isotropic Systems raises $40 million for a satellite antenna that could make the most of new constellations

UK-based Isotropic Systems has raised a $40 million funding in an “oversubscribed” round that the startup says will help it get its next-generation broadband terminal to the production phase by its 2022 target. The funding, a Series B that brings the company’s total raised to $60 million, was led by SES and included participation form Boeing HorizonX, Space Angels, Orbital Ventures on the venture side, and that includes UK government grant support as well.

Isotropic’s business is centred around a new type of broadband terminal it’s developing that can communicate across multiple frequencies, making it possible for it to connect to more than one satellite network at the same time without any loss in signal quality or network speed for any individual connection. The final product would then offer ground connectivity to customers that could potentially maintain connections with more than one of the emerging satellite broadband networks in development, including those being set up by OneWeb, SpaceX, Intelsat, SES, Amazon and more.

The startup will be stand-in cup a 20,000 square-foot testing and prediction facility near Reading in the UK, and expects to have the first operational version of its ground terminal in production by 2022. If its final product works as advertised, it could be a major boon both for satellite network connectivity providers and for clients, since it would mean that customers who can afford the service don’t have to either select from among the available options, and can instead use one hardware solution to connect to multiple in order to take advantage of potential speed benefits, as well as network redundancy.

The benefits are obvious, provided the financials make sense. Imagine, for instance, using onboard wifi on an international flight. Typically, these networks have been unreliable to say the least. Coverage and quality drop-outs are common, and speeds tend to be weak in even the best of cases. Networks like Starlink aim to correct a lot of these legacy problems, but even better would be a solution that offers connection to multiple satellite networks simultaneously, switching between each connection as necessary to maintain the best possible network quality – and potentially combining available bandwidth when possible to boost speeds.

Isotropic’s potential customer list for such an offering spans military, government, and civilian markets, across both broadband and low-data IoT networks. This latest funding should help it prove its groundbreaking technology can attain the production scale and efficacy required to live up to its promise.

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SpaceX Starlink questions answered: “Wider beta” soon, no plan for data caps

Starlink logo imposed on stylized image of the Earth.

Enlarge / Starlink logo imposed on stylized image of the Earth. (credit: Starlink)

SpaceX Starlink engineers answered questions in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Saturday, covering topics such as data caps (which they hope to never implement), when the public beta will expand to more users, and how the satellite-broadband service will expand and change in the future.

“Starlink is an extremely flexible system and will get better over time as we make the software smarter. Latency, bandwidth, and reliability can all be improved significantly,” the engineers wrote under the Reddit username “DishyMcFlatface,” which is also SpaceX’s nickname for the Starlink satellite dish.

Here are some highlights from the AMA.

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OneWeb exits bankruptcy and is ready to launch more broadband satellites

Illustration of a boxy satellite orbiting the Earth.

Enlarge / Illustration of a OneWeb satellite. (credit: OneWeb)

OneWeb has emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy under new ownership and says it will begin launching more broadband satellites next month. Similar to SpaceX Starlink, OneWeb is building a network of low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites that can provide high-speed broadband with much lower latencies than traditional geostationary satellites.

After a launch in December, “launches will continue throughout 2021 and 2022, and OneWeb is now on track to begin commercial connectivity services to the UK and the Arctic region in late 2021 and will expand to delivering global services in 2022,” OneWeb said in an announcement Friday.

In March this year, OneWeb filed for bankruptcy and reportedly laid off most of its staff. In July, OneWeb agreed to sell the business to a consortium including the UK government and Bharti Global Limited for $1 billion. In the Friday announcement, OneWeb said it has secured “all relevant regulatory approvals” needed to exit bankruptcy.

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UK government buys chunk of bankrupt Starlink competitor, OneWeb

Promotional image of Web device.

Enlarge / A OneWeb receiver. (credit: OneWeb)

The UK has entered the increasingly competitive race to become a global satellite Internet provider after taking control of failed space startup OneWeb with Indian billionaire Sunil Bharti Mittal.

The low-Earth-orbit-satellite operator emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Friday and will now seek a further $1.25 billion through debt or equity to achieve its ambitious medium-term goal of launching a global commercial Internet service by 2022 focusing on remote areas.

It will face well-funded rivals, including ventures led by SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

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SpaceX Starlink has some hiccups, as expected, but users are impressed

A SpaceX Starlink satellite dish placed on the ground in a forest clearing.

Enlarge / Starlink satellite dish and equipment in the Idaho panhandle’s Coeur d’Alene National Forest. (credit: Wandering-coder)

When SpaceX opened the Starlink public beta last month, the company told users to expect “brief periods of no connectivity at all” over the first few months. It’s one of the reasons that SpaceX calls this testing period the “Better Than Nothing” beta.

Early reports from Starlink beta testers confirm that users are suffering from this problem to some extent. But Starlink’s overall performance has wowed beta testers, many of whom previously had no access to modern broadband speeds.

“Link stability is a little rough,” Reddit user Exodatum wrote on the Starlink subreddit yesterday. “We’re getting jumps bad enough to disconnect us from connection-sensitive servers every 5-10 minutes, but things like Netflix are working perfectly. We watched Airplane! as an inaugural stream and it was fabulous.” (Buffering deployed by Netflix and other streaming services can keep videos running when there are brief Internet problems.)

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SpaceX launches Starlink app and provides pricing and service info to early beta testers

SpaceX has debuted an official app for its Starlink satellite broadband internet service, for both iOS and Android devices. The Starlink app allows users to manage their connection – but to take part you’ll have to be part of the official beta program, and the initial public rollout of that is only just about to begin, according to emails SpaceX sent to potential beta testers this week.

The Starlink app provides guidance on how to install the Starlink receiver dish, as well as connection status (including signal quality), a device overview for seeing what’s connected to your network, and a speed test tool. It’s similar to other mobile apps for managing home wifi connections and routers. Meanwhile, the emails to potential testers that CNBC obtained detail what users can expect in terms of pricing, speeds and latency.

The initial Starlink public beta test is called the “Better than Nothing Beta Program,” SpaceX confirms in their app description, and will be rolled out across the U.S. and Canada before the end of the year – which matches up with earlier stated timelines. As per the name, SpaceX is hoping to set expectations for early customers, with speeds users can expect ranging from between 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, and latency of 20ms to 40ms according to the customer emails, with some periods including no connectivity at all. Even with expectations set low, if those values prove accurate, it should be a big improvement for users in some hard-to-reach areas where service is currently costly, unreliable and operating at roughly dial-up equivalent speeds.

Image Credits: SpaceX

In terms of pricing, SpaceX says in the emails that the cost for participants in this beta program will be $99 per moth, plus a one-time cost of $499 initially to pay for the hardware, which includes the mounting kit and receiver dish, as well as a router with wifi networking capabilities.

The goal eventually is offer reliably, low-latency broadband that provides consistent connection by handing off connectivity between a large constellation of small satellites circling the globe in low Earth orbit. Already, SpaceX has nearly 1,000 of those launched, but it hopes to launch many thousands more before it reaches global coverage and offers general availability of its services.

SpaceX has already announced some initial commercial partnerships and pilot programs for Starlink, too, including a team-up with Microsoft to connect that company’s mobile Azure data centers, and a project with an East Texas school board to connect the local community.

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SpaceX Starlink public beta begins: It’s $99 a month plus $500 up front

A SpaceX Starlink user terminal, also known as a satellite dish, seen against a city's skyline.

Enlarge / A SpaceX Starlink user terminal/satellite dish. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has begun sending email invitations to Starlink’s public beta and will charge beta users $99 per month plus a one-time fee of $499 for the user terminal, mounting tripod, and router. The emails are being sent to people who previously registered interest in the service on the Starlink website. One person in Washington state who got the email posted it on Reddit. Another person who lives in Wisconsin got the Starlink public-beta invitation and passed the details along to Ars via email.

SpaceX is calling it the “Better Than Nothing” beta, perhaps partly because the Starlink satellite service will be most useful to people who cannot get cable or fiber broadband. But the email also says, “As you can tell from the title, we are trying to lower your initial expectations.”

The rest of the email reads as follows:

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SpaceX Starlink to go South for first time with planned deployment in Texas

Starlink logo imposed on stylized image of the Earth.

Enlarge / Starlink logo imposed on stylized image of the Earth. (credit: Starlink)

SpaceX has agreed to provide Internet service to 45 families in a Texas school district in early 2021 and to an additional 90 families later on, the school district announced last week. The announcement by Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) in Odessa said it will be the “first school district to utilize SpaceX satellites to provide Internet for students.”

“The project will initially provide free Internet service to 45 families in the Pleasant Farms area of south Ector County,” the district said. “As the network capabilities continue to grow, it will expand to serve an additional 90 Ector County families.”

The Texas location is notable because the ongoing, limited Starlink beta exists only in the northern US, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said an upcoming public beta will only be for the northern US and “hopefully” southern Canada. SpaceX has over 700 Starlink satellites in orbit, and will be able to expand the service area as it deploys more of the nearly 12,000 it has been authorized to launch. In Washington state, Starlink has been deployed to rural homes, a remote tribe, and emergency responders and families in wildfire-stricken areas.

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Microsoft’s new data center in a box will use SpaceX Starlink broadband

Microsoft today unveiled a modular data center that can be deployed to remote areas, as well as a partnership with SpaceX to connect those data centers to the Internet with Starlink satellite broadband. Microsoft said the Azure Modular Datacenter (MDC) is “for customers who need cloud computing capabilities in hybrid or challenging environments, including remote areas” for scenarios such as “mobile command centers, humanitarian assistance, military mission needs, [and] mineral exploration.”

The MDC is “a self-contained datacenter unit” that “can operate in a wide range of climates and harsh conditions in a ruggedized, radio frequency (RF) shielded unit,” Microsoft said. It can be deployed in areas “where temperature, humidity, and even level surfaces” would normally pose a big problem.

Bringing Internet connectivity to remote areas is often a challenge, and that’s where SpaceX comes in. Microsoft is also using SES satellites as part of what it calls a “multi-orbit, multi-band, multi-vendor” approach to connectivity. MDCs will be able to use satellite service either as a backup or as the primary Internet connection.

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Remote tribe says SpaceX Starlink “catapulted” them into 21st century

Melvinjohn Ashue, vice chairman of the Hoh Tribe, seen in a screenshot from a video produced by the Washington State Department of Commerce.

Enlarge / Melvinjohn Ashue, vice chairman of the Hoh Tribe, discusses the tribe’s use of Starlink broadband. (credit: Washington State Department of Commerce)

A remote tribe in Washington state is one of the first users of SpaceX’s Starlink broadband, having been connected recently after years of struggling to get modern Internet service. “We’re very remote,” said Melvinjohn Ashue, vice chairman of the Hoh Tribe’s governing committee. “The last eight years I felt like we have been paddling upriver with a spoon and almost getting nowhere with getting Internet to the reservation.”

The Hoh Tribe’s reservation is in western Washington and had a population of 28 households with 116 people in the 2010 US Census. Ashue described the tribe’s Internet problems and use of Starlink in a video produced by the Washington State Department of Commerce.

The video serves partly to advertise the state agency’s efforts to get everyone connected to modern broadband by 2024, a goal that has been helped along by SpaceX’s decision to start its limited Starlink beta in Washington. Previously, we wrote about how Washington state emergency responders are using Starlink in areas ravaged by wildfires. Residents of the wildfire-stricken town of Malden have also used Starlink.

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SpaceX has launched enough satellites for Starlink’s upcoming public beta

60 of SpaceX's broadband satellites stacked before launch.

Enlarge / 60 Starlink satellites stacked for launch at SpaceX facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX’s Starlink broadband has been available in a limited beta for the past few months, and SpaceX has now launched enough satellites for a public beta that will be available to more customers. However, the newly launched satellites aren’t in position yet, and SpaceX hasn’t revealed an exact availability date.

After yesterday’s launch of 60 Starlink satellites, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that “Once these satellites reach their target position, we will be able to roll out a fairly wide public beta in northern US & hopefully southern Canada. Other countries to follow as soon as we receive regulatory approval.”

Musk did not say when the satellites will reach their target position. SpaceX has over 700 satellites in orbit after yesterday’s launch.

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SpaceX Starlink brings Internet to emergency responders in wildfire areas

Pictures of a SpaceX broadband-satellite dish and wildfire-ravaged areas of Washington State.

Enlarge / A Starlink user terminal and wildfire-devastated areas seen in images shared by Washington state’s Emergency Management Division. (credit: Washington Emergency Management Division)

SpaceX Starlink is providing Internet access to Washington state emergency responders in areas ravaged by wildfires. The group has deployed seven Starlink user terminals (i.e. satellite dishes) since it began using the service in early August, as CNBC reported yesterday:

“I have never set up any tactical satellite equipment that has been as quick to set up, and anywhere near as reliable” as Starlink, Richard Hall, the emergency telecommunications leader of the Washington State Military Department’s IT division, told CNBC in an interview Monday.

The broadband service has helped both emergency responders and families in wildfire-stricken areas. Hall “has set up terminals in areas that were burned severely to provide evacuated families with wireless calling and Internet access to file insurance claims,” CNBC wrote. Hall said he also “did setup to allow kids to do some of their initial schooling.”

Hall said Starlink has “easily double[d] the bandwidth” compared to traditional satellite broadband and consistently provides latency of less than 30ms.

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Bankrupt OneWeb gets FCC approval for another 1,280 broadband satellites

Illustration of a OneWeb satellite orbiting the Earth.

Enlarge / Illustration of a OneWeb satellite. (credit: OneWeb)

Amid a bankruptcy and a pending sale, OneWeb has secured US approval to offer broadband service from 2,000 satellites.

OneWeb already had Federal Communications Commission approval for a 720-satellite constellation that was green-lit in June 2017. In an order released yesterday, the FCC gave OneWeb approval for another 1,280 satellites.

The first 720 satellites, of which OneWeb has launched 74, are for low Earth orbital altitudes of 1,200km. The additional 1,280 satellites were approved for medium Earth orbits of 8,500km. Both are much lower than the 35,000km geostationary orbits used by traditional satellite-broadband networks, which should result in lower latency and a better experience for Internet users.

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SpaceX now plans for 5 million Starlink customers in US, up from 1 million

A SpaceX Starlink user terminal, also known as a satellite dish, seen against a city's skyline.

Enlarge / A SpaceX Starlink user terminal/satellite dish. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has asked the US for permission to deploy up to 5 million user terminals for its Starlink satellite-broadband network in the US after nearly 700,000 people in the country registered interest in the service.

SpaceX in March received a Federal Communications Commission license for up to 1 million user terminals (i.e. satellite dishes) in the United States. That would allow for 1 million homes to receive the service, but SpaceX now wants to quintuple that number.

“SpaceX Services requests this increase in authorized units due to the extraordinary demand for access to the Starlink non-geostationary orbit satellite system,” the company told the FCC in a license-change request on Friday. “Despite the fact that SpaceX has yet to formally advertise this system’s services, nearly 700,000 individuals represented in all 50 states signed up over a matter of just days to register their interest in said services at www.starlink.com. To ensure that SpaceX is able to accommodate the apparent demand for its broadband Internet access service, SpaceX Services requests a substantial increase in the number of authorized units.”

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SpaceX to offer Starlink public beta in six months, Musk says

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gesturing with his hands and speaking during a conference.

Enlarge / SpaceX CEO Elon Musk at the Satellite 2020 Conference in Washington, DC, on Monday, March 9, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

SpaceX will start testing Starlink broadband service in a private beta in about three months and make it available in a public beta about six months from now, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter yesterday. The first beta trials will occur in high latitudes, he wrote.

When asked by a Twitter user if Germany counts as a high-latitude area for purposes of the beta trial, Musk answered “yes.” Parts of the US would presumably be included in beta trials, given that SpaceX has said it plans to make Starlink service available in parts of the US this year.

The private beta would “almost certainly be reserved for SpaceX and Tesla employees and their families,” according to a Teslarati article. “Just like Tesla currently trials early software builds on employee cars, those customers would serve as much more regimented guinea pigs, likely offering detailed feedback throughout their trial of Starlink Internet.”

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SpaceX gets FCC license for 1 million satellite-broadband user terminals

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching into the sky.

Enlarge / A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 60 Starlink satellites launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on January 29, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | SOPA Images )

SpaceX has received government approval to deploy up to 1 million user terminals in the United States for its Starlink satellite-broadband constellation.

SpaceX asked the Federal Communications Commission for the license in February 2019, and the FCC announced its approval in a public notice last week. The FCC approval is for “a blanket license for the operation of up to 1,000,000 fixed earth stations that will communicate with [SpaceX’s] non-geostationary orbit satellite system.” The license is good for 15 years.

As SpaceX’s application said, the earth stations are “user terminals [that] employ advanced phased-array beam-forming and digital-processing technologies to make highly efficient use of Ku-band spectrum resources by supporting highly directive, steered antenna beams that track the system’s low-Earth orbit satellites.”

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Elon Musk: Starlink latency will be good enough for competitive gaming

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gesturing with his hands and speaking during a conference.

Enlarge / SpaceX CEO Elon Musk at the Satellite 2020 Conference in Washington, DC, on Monday, March 9, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband will have latency low enough to support competitive online gaming and will generally be fast enough that customers won’t have to think about Internet speed, Elon Musk said at a conference yesterday. Despite that, the SpaceX CEO argued that Starlink won’t be a major threat to telcos because the satellite service won’t be good enough for high-population areas and will mostly be used by rural customers without access to fast broadband.

“It will be a pretty good experience because it’ll be very low latency,” Musk said in a Q&A session at the Satellite 2020 conference (see video). “We’re targeting latency below 20 milliseconds, so somebody could play a fast-response video game at a competitive level, like that’s the threshold for the latency.”

Latency of less than 20ms would make Starlink comparable to wired broadband service. When SpaceX first began talking about its satellite plans in late 2016, it said latency would be 25ms to 35ms. But Musk has been predicting sub-20ms latency since at least May 2019, with the potential for sub-10ms latency sometime in the future.

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