Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Starlink: Science Fiction or Something from the Near Future?

Article Written By: Arslan Salikhov


   Everyone knows that Elon Musk’s projects revolutionize their industries and catalyze humanity’s progress - and his new proposal is not an odd one out. Starlink, the satellite constellation, would be a giant collective of 12,000 satellites orbiting the Earth and providing high-speed internet to even the most remote locations on the planet. As of May 23, 2019 SpaceX has launched 60 satellites for testing purposes on their Falcon 9 rocket. Currently, Starlink is projected to begin officially operating in 2021. However, the question remains: How can the high volume of devices be sent into space and is the task even possible?

   First, let’s take a closer look at the financial considerations of this project. Each satellite weighs around 250 kilograms. Considering $20,000 is the approximate price of sending 1kg on orbit on the Atlas V type rocket, it would cost NASA 60 BILLION dollars just in transportation costs to implement Starlink. Nevertheless, Elon Musk has an answer for this problem. With the SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which uses a reusable booster system, the price of launching 1kg to space drops to $1,700. This then drives the cost to launch all the 12,000 Starlink satellites to 5.1 billion dollars instead.

   At this point, many of you might ask why it’s necessary to have this myriad of satellites hovering over the Earth? The answer becomes clear when taking the developing countries into account. According to Internet World Stats, only 38% of the population in Africa has access to the internet compared to 90% in North America. By introducing the Internet to these individuals, they would then be able to utilize the nearly bottomless pool of educational and academic resources. The poor access to the internet drives the Human Development Index to the low end and creates a loss in human capital. Currently, the price of internet in Africa is roughly $35 per gigabyte. This makes it almost impossible for the general population in these countries to afford the Internet, as the average daily income is only $6. The Starlink project would drive down this price. It would allow villages to purchase a $200 receiver and then individuals would be able to pay a severely reduced fee to obtain access the internet.

   Now the last question remains: But how would Elon Musk benefit from the project? Well, the answer is quite clear; it’s through the revenue generated from Starlink. Musk predicts this project has the potential to bring in $30 billion dollars by 2025. This would provide additional funding for the other SpaceX projects, including the human mission to Mars.

   So is the Starlink project something out of a sci-fi book? The short answer is no. We currently possess the technology to implement a project of such scale for a relatively low price. However the fact that this project works on paper doesn’t mean that it would translate smoothly in the real world. There remain many unknown factors that will only come to light after the start of such a grandiose plan.







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