Wednesday, June 03, 2015

SpaceX is ready to test Internet service satellites.

We have been following the plans of Elon Musk and Greg Wyler to launch constellations of low-earth orbit satellites to provide global Internet service and fast long-distance links. Neither company plans to be in operation for several years, but Musk's SpaceX is ready to test two satellites.

SpaceX has filed an application to launch two test satellites and satellite experts have been discussing it on Reddit.

The application calls for launching two identical Ku-band downlink satellites (cubesats?), which will orbit at 625 kilometers and have an expected lifetime of 6-12 months. The objective of the launch is:

To validate the design of a broadband antenna communications platform (primary payload) that will lead to the final LEO constellation design using three broadband array test ground stations positioned along the western coast of the US.
They will do broadband array testing using a network of three broadband test ground locations at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California, Tesla Motors Headquarters in Fremont, California and SpaceX Washington in Redmond, Washington. (It pays to own multiple companies). Two types of the ground terminal will be evaluated at each location.

These test results will lead to a revised, perhaps final version of the satellites and ground stations. I've no idea how soon they might be ready for operation, but SpaceX is first out of the gate in the satellite constellation Internet service race.

Update 10/17/2017

SpaceX has applied for FCC approval to test satellite communication using radios on two buildings in Redmond Washington. The ground station equipment will be mounted on the SpaceX satellite research and development building shown here and the communications equipment that will eventually be in test satellites will be on top of a tall building about 6 km away. You can read more on the application and test on Reddit.

SpaceX satellite research and development building

Update 12/14/2018

MicroSat 1a and 1b, identical test satellites for SpaceX's Starlink constellation will launch Feb 17 at 6:17 Pacific time.