After spending a few months in closed beta, SpaceX is now readying its satellite-based broadband for public testing. With 60 more satellites recently added to the Starlink constellation, CEO Elon Musk noted that a “fairly wide public beta” would commence for residents in the northern US and southern Canada, once the newly launched satellites reach their target position.
SpaceX’s main aim is to provide sub-20ms latency broadband to rural areas around the world with thousands of internet-beaming satellites. While that goal is still a few years away, the company did reach a major milestone recently with the latest round of launches for its Starlink program.
With an additional 60 satellites now in orbit, there are now over 700 of them as part of Starlink’s constellation. This figure, it seems, is also good enough to conduct a public beta of the program in limited areas of the US and Canada.
While regulatory approvals for other countries would likely take another couple of months (or years), the upcoming public beta for US and Canadian residents could happen as soon as next month.
ArsTechnica reports on Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who keeps track of Starlink’s satellites’ orbits. He notes that SpaceX typically splits each batch of 60 satellites into three groups of 20 and that he expects the first group to reach its target in 45 days, the second after 90, and the third after 135 days.
While this figure suggests that all 60 satellites won’t be in their target positions until mid-February 2021, Elon previously said that Starlink’s public beta would happen this fall, which could mean a limited launch as soon as the first satellite group aligns itself.
SpaceX would also be facing numerous challenges along the way. It recently tried to address space visibility concerns of astronomers with anti-glare sun visors for its satellites, while others such as minimizing space debris would require a collective effort with competitors as more of them join the internet-from-space race.