Innovation explained: Elon Musk’s Starlink

Elon Musk is known for turning classical thinking on its head. Whether he brings disruption to the automotive industry, as with Tesla; revolutionizes transportation, as with the Hyperloop; or reinvents space travel, as with SpaceX, but his latest idea goes in a completely different direction. With Starlink, he wants to send a unique Internet network into orbit to fundamentally change the Internet as we know it.

According to Musk and SpaceX, the Starlink project would consist of almost 12,000 satellites when completed. By 2027, these will be in orbit, providing the Earth with fast, low-latency and affordable Internet access. Rural and remote areas in particular are to be connected to the net, providing them with fast and optimal access to the Internet.


“This is the most exciting new network we’ve seen in a long time” – Mark Handley, University College London


How does Starlink work?

SpaceX has recently been sending satellites into orbit with a Falcon 9 rocket. But this was only the beginning. In the next few years more are to be launched into orbit. Each satellite weighs about 227 kilograms and is about the size of an office desk. According to Elon Musk, it takes about 400 satellites to provide low Internet coverage. 800 satellites in orbit would provide significant operational coverage. In order to achieve the goal the entrepreneur has set for Starlink, at least 1,600 satellites at an altitude of 440 kilometres are needed to change the network far-reaching.

Starlink Mission (Source: SpaceX)


The transmission technology is revolutionary. Currently, our data is transmitted via light pulses in fiber optic cables. But fibre optic cables are very expensive and especially the laying in the ground is expensive and not possible in all places.

There is also a physical reason why space is better suited for the transmission of light signals. In the vacuum of space, light travels about 50% faster than through solid glass fibres. For this reason Starlink is ideally suited to reduce the latency of the connection and to cover the entire earth.

The Starlink satellites connect by means of lasers and thus build a network to provide ever greater Internet coverage. Although this is not yet being implemented for the first satellites currently in orbit, laser connections are firmly planned for the next generations. The signals will be received via small terminals, no bigger than a medium-sized pizza, which will be connected to Starlink and will cost around 200 dollars.

Musk said in a statement that the Starlink terminals would also easily fit on ships, airplanes and other mobile devices, allowing these vehicles to have better broadband connections than is possible today.


What’s the next step?

After launching approximately 1,600 satellites at an altitude of 342 miles, SpaceX hopes to position another 2,800 satellites at an altitude of 684 and 823 miles from the Earth’s surface. Some would also orbit the poles of the Earth to solve complicated north-south connections.

Work is also currently underway on new shells and more durable structural designs for the satellites, as space experts and astronomers fear not only limited visibility into space, but also a huge increase in space debris that could damage other spacecraft.


Post picture: SpaceX

Alexander Pinker
Alexander Pinker
Alexander Pinker is an innovation profiler, future strategist and media expert who helps companies understand the opportunities behind technologies such as artificial intelligence for the next five to ten years. He is the founder of the consulting firm "Alexander Pinker - Innovation Profiling", the innovation marketing agency "innovate! communication" and the news platform "Medialist Innovation". He is also the author of three books and a lecturer at the Technical University of Würzburg-Schweinfurt.

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