SpaceX says it plans to begin offering broadband services to customers with its massive internet-from-space initiative, known as Starlink, as early as mid-2020, SpaceNews reports. The company needs to complete six to eight launches, with 60 satellites per ride, in order to get the service up and running, SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell told reporters during a media roundtable in Washington, DC.
Starlink is SpaceX’s proposed constellation of thousands of satellites, which are designed to orbit at low altitudes above the Earth and beam internet coverage to the surface below. SpaceX has so far secured licensing from the Federal Communications Commission to launch nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit. And just last week, the company submitted another request to an international regulator, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), asking for radio frequencies to communicate with an additional 30,000 Starlink satellites. That means the company wants the ability to launch an estimated 42,000 satellites into orbit.
“As demand escalates for fast, reliable internet around the world, especially for those where connectivity is non-existent, too expensive or unreliable, SpaceX is taking steps to responsibly scale Starlink’s total network capacity and data density to meet the growth in users’ anticipated needs,” a company spokesperson said in a statement in reference to the new ITU filing.
So far, SpaceX has only launched 60 of its Starlink satellites on a single launch in May, and three of those satellites failed sometime after they made it to orbit. SpaceX also wound up taking two of the remaining satellites out of orbit, to prove that the company has the capability to remove the vehicles from space if necessary. However, the remaining satellites raised themselves to higher altitudes and seem to be working. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Monday night that he was going to send a tweet using the Starlink system. “Whoa, it worked!!” he wrote.
There’s still a lot of work to be done before people can start getting internet from Starlink. Apart from launching satellites, SpaceX still needs to finish developing its user terminal, a small device that customers will use to receive broadband signals from the satellites. The company also needs to figure out how it will roll out the service, according to SpaceNews. It’s possible the service will be offered directly to customers, while in some countries, customers will need to sign up for the service through a telecom service provider, according to Shotwell. A price point also needs to be determined.
“This is very different business for SpaceX,” Shotwell said, according to SpaceNews. “It’s leveraging space technology but it’s a consumer business.”