Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Boeing's satellite Internet project

2,956 satellites orbiting at inclinations
of 45°, 55° & 88°, Source
Boeing was the prime contractor for Teledesic's failed attempt in the late 1990s.

I recently posted updates on the satellite Internet service projects of SpaceX and OneWeb. OneWeb and SpaceX have received a lot of publicity, but there is a new entry in the global satellite Internet race -- Boeing. (Leosat has kept a relatively low profile).

Boeing has applied for a license to launch a constellation of 2,956 Internet-access satellites orbiting at an altitude of 1,200 km. (In a subsequent amendment, the orbits were lowered to three different levels 970, 1,034 and 1,086 km ). They outlined a two-phase plan -- the first 1,396 satellites would be operating within six years and another 1,560 would be launched within 12 years as demand justified.

There has also been speculation that Apple may be funding and collaborating with Boeing on satellite Internet-service provision. (If you follow this link, read the comments).

Small cells around Washington DC
Boeing will use beam-forming, digital processing and instantaneous handoff between overlapping satellite footprints to generate thousands of narrow spot beams, dividing the Earth's surface into 8-11 km diameter (50-95 km2) cells as illustrated here. Each cell will have 5 Ghz bandwidth and, if a cell contains both user terminals and Internet gateways, time-division algorithms will enable frequency re-use to serve both. These are very smart radios!

In reviewing the FCC filings, I was struck by the degree of cooperation between the competitors. When Boeing proposed 1,200 km orbits, OneWeb filed a comment saying that would interfere with their design which also called for 1,200 km orbits. In response, Boeing met with OneWeb and altered their plan, lowering altitudes to 970, 1,082 and 1,030 km.

There were also concerns that waivers Boeing requested might lead to radio interference and SpaceX responded by stating that:
The Commission should encourage systems that facilitate spectrum sharing among licensed users. The waivers Boeing seeks will help to build a sensible regulatory environment for NGSO operations while honoring the goals of the rules at issue.
These companies value engineering as well as business. (Tesla has shared their patents -- might SpaceX do the same)?

In researching this post, I came across two other Boeing filings -- one for 60 high-altitude satellites (shown here) and another for a low-Earth constellation of 132 satellites and 15 high-altitude satellites. I imagine these smaller constellations will complement the larger constellation somehow, but have not been able to learn how they will interact.

Sixty high-altitude satellites launched in three phases: the Amercas, Europe
and Africa and Asia and Australia. Click to enlarge. (source)

Boeing, OneWeb and SpaceX are from different generations. OneWeb and SpaceX are relatively recent startups and Boeing is venerable. The startups may have less legacy overhead and have gotten off to a faster start, but Boeing has been thinking about providing Internet service using a satellite constellation for over twenty years -- they were the prime contractor for Teledesic's failed attempt in the late 1990s.

We have four potential global Internet service providers -- SpaceX, OneWeb, Leosat and Apple(?)/Boeing. I hope they all succeed, giving us some competition in the Intenet service market. That might one day help current Internet customers who have only one choice for their service provider (like me) but it would surely be a boon for people with no terrestrial Internet access today.

Update 12/10/2017
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg said a Boeing rocket will be used to put the first person on Mars (presumably in a NASA mission).

In response, Elon Musk, who has announced plans to land a person on Mars in 2024, tweeted "do it".

A Boeing infographic shows their Space Launch System (SLS) rocket powering a manned Mars mission in the mid to late 2030s, which raises a couple of questions:
  • Why the sudden acceleration -- is it about competition for NASA funding? Catching up with the SpaceX BFR?
  • If Boeing speeds up the SLS program, will it affect the timetable for their satellite Internet business?
  • I wonder what the SpaceX and Boeing Mars missions will cost the US taxpayer -- which will be more cost-effective?
  • Finally, does the winner of this race gain any legal or property rights advantage?
I'll conclude with a bit of business speculation:

As noted above, Boeing has said they would like LEO satellite Internet partners and Apple was a possibility. More recently, Boeing announced that they will build satellites for O3b, a company Wyler founded. Boeing has also applied to transfer one of its V-band satellite broadband filings to SOM1101, a company controlled by Greg Wyler. Might we see OneWeb teaming up with Boeing in order to compete with SpaceX?

The following short video (3:18) outlines Boeing's Mars plan and previous timetable:

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Internet speeds politics up and we are suffering are suffering from attention-deficit disorder.

He spent over a third of the speech attacking the "dishonest", "crooked", "fake" media -- 3,215 out of a total of 8,833 words. That is frightening.

Trump gave a speech yesterday in Phoenix and this morning, the transcript was online. In less than an hour, I was able to read it and do a little analysis.

The 77-minute speech included 105 pauses for applause and 13 interruptions for booing the media and others -- Trump was energized by the enthusiastic crowd. It was a typical campaign speech in which he assailed Obama care, illegal immigrants, Democrats, trade deals, the Senate; praised tough law enforcement and the wall and bragged about creating jobs, stopping crime, etc. Here is a particularly hyperbolic example:

Can you imagine, in this day and age -- in this day and age in this country, we are liberating towns. This is like from a different age. We are taking these people. They don't shoot people because it's too fast and not painful. They cut them up into little pieces. These are animals. We are getting them out of here. We're throwing them in jails, and we're throwing them out of the country. We're liberating our towns.

But two things stood out for me. He spent over a third of the speech attacking the "dishonest", "crooked", "fake" media -- 3,215 out of a total of 8,833 words. That is frightening.

He also devoted 409 words to the "absolutely necessary" border wall. (When he turned to the topic, the crowd applauded and chanted "Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!"). He called out the Democratic obstructionists and threatened to shut down the government in order fund the wall. Mexico paying for the wall is evidently off the table after his embarrassing call to the Mexican President.

That was evidently the start of a wall building campaign/distraction because I got an email from
this morning asking me to sign a petition calling on the Senate to fund the wall:

Naturally, I "signed" the petition (using the name "Jim Jones" -- they do not check) and was redirected to https://action.donaldjtrump.com/, where I was asked for a contribution.

I cannot say that surprised me since I receive an average of more than one Trump contribution solicitation per day.

For better or worse, the Internet gives us machine-readable access to presidential speeches (and tweets), allowing us to quickly analyze and digest them. The downside is that they distract us from more mundane news about meaningful actions like changes in enforcement of immigration and drug laws or environmental regulation. We are suffering from attention-deficit disorder.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

OneWeb satellite Internet project update

The OneWeb mission is to bridge the digital divide globally by 2027.
Greg Wyler, 2017 Softbank World conference

Whoever gets the most data wins.
Masayoshi Son, 2017 Softbank World conference

Global prices will vary, making connectivity affordable in developing nations.
Greg Wyler, 2017 Senate testimony

Satellites in 18 orbital planes
SpaceX and OneWeb are formidable, experienced competitors in a race to become global Internet service providers using satellite constellations -- routers in space. I posted a status report on SpaceX last week, now let's look at OneWeb.

OneWeb founder and executive chairman Greg Wyler has extensive experience with networking in developing nations. In 2003 his company, Terracom, signed a contract to connect Rwandan schools, government institutions, and homes. Terracom failed to meet their goal, and the difficulty of dealing with terrestrial infrastructure led Wyler to focus on satellite connectivity.

In 2007, he founded O3b Networks (Other 3 billion), which today provides high-speed connectivity to Internet service providers and phone companies using a constellation of 12 satellites orbiting at 8,012 km above the equator. (The geosynchronous satellites used for TV transmission and Internet access in remote areas orbit 35,786 km above the equator). In spite of its name, O3b was not going to connect the entire world and Wyler founded OneWeb in 2012, with the mission of bridging the digital divide, which he hopes to do by 2027.

Satellites will be mass-produced,
reducing cost and cutting production
time significantly.
OneWeb and SpaceX have the same goal, but their organizations are dissimilar. SpaceX is integrated -- building the rockets, satellites and ground stations themselves -- while OneWeb has partners that bring skills and funds to the project. For example, Qualcomm will design and supply communication chips and Airbus will manufacture satellites.

OneWeb also has a symbiotic relationship with Softbank, their largest investor. SoftBank's Vision Fund has invested $1 billion in OneWeb and OneWeb plays a strategic role in SoftBank's vision of the future.

SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son outlined his vision of the future in the keynote session ofth the 2017 SoftBank World conference. He believes the information revolution will be driven by strong, general artificial intelligence (AI), therefore the key material asset for the information age will be AI training data -- "whoever gets the most data wins."

Low-cost, user-installable
terminals will support WiFi, cell
phones, and the Internet. Solar panels
and batteries are optional.
Several Vision Fund investments focus on collecting that training data from Internet of things (IoT) devices. They have invested in ARM, which dominates the IoT and smartphone processor markets, Nvidia which makes processors used in AI, Boston Dynamics which is building intelligent robots and, you guessed it, OneWeb, which will link 1 trillion IoT devices to AI projects.

Wyler and representatives of some other Vision Fund companies made presentations during the keynote. Here is a summary of what Wyler said:
  • They have priority rights to 3.55 GHz of globally harmonized spectrum for non-geostationary satellites. (They also have a technique for avoiding interference with geo-stationary satellites when over the equator).
  • They will have 49 satellites in each of 18, 1,200 km orbital planes.
  • With Airbus, they have devised a novel satellite manufacturing process that will allow mass production rather than hand building.
  • Cost per satellite will be under $1 million and they will be able to produce three per day.
  • They will connect both Internet gateways and end users.
  • The first satellites will have a capacity of 595 Mbps, but that will increase to over 1 Gbps. (More on capacity below).
  • Latency will be under 50 ms, making interactive applications like 5G mobile telephony, game playing and Web surfing possible.
The following is a video (9:43) of his presentation:

(You can see the entire keynote session with presentations by several Vision Fund companies (2:12:15) here or just Son's introduction, outlining his Vision Fund strategy (30:17) here).

Satellite footprint 1,080 by 1,080 km
System capacity is a key variable. OneWeb claimed satellite throughput would be "up to" 7.5 Gbps in a June 2016 presentation to the ITU, but Wyler quoted much lower capacity in his Softbank talk. (I've asked OneWeb for clarification on this change, but have not received a reply. I will update this post if and when I do).

That revised capacity estimate may explain Wyler's February 2017 statement that they had sold a considerable portion of the capacity of their planned constellation. The following month they filed an application with the FCC for an additional 720 satellites orbiting at 1,200 km and 1,280 orbiting at 8,500 km. The 720 satellite constellation application has been approved.

I have no idea what their planned customer mix is. They will presumably serve relatively few Internet gateways, but those will require considerable bandwidth. End users like homes and schools will require less bandwidth, but there will be more of them. There will be large numbers of IoT devices, but they will require little bandwidth. Population densities also vary greatly -- between urban and rural areas, continents and islands and, in the extreme, ships at sea. 1 Gbps will go a lot further in Alaska than Bangladesh.

OneWeb seems to be ahead of SpaceX's schedule. They plan to launch their first satellites in March 2018. (That will satisfy the ITU requirement that they are using their spectrum). They will begin offering service in Alaska in 2019 and hope to cover all of Alaska by the end of 2020. By 2025 they expect to have 1 billion subscribers and their mission is to eliminate the global digital divide by 2027.

Update 10/28/2017

The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and OneWeb have signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on rural connectivity. Greg Wyler, Founder and Executive Chairman of OneWeb, promised that “Starting in 2020, OneWeb will be able to deliver everyone in Saudi Arabia, regardless of their location, high-speed broadband at their home, office, or school."

The Saudi National transformation plan calls for extending connectivity to nearly all rural areas and OneWeb is expected to help them reach 30% of rural homes. No details were released, but since this is a deal with the government, the strategy may be to use OneWeb for a national "backbone" and provide backhaul for local area networks rather than serving consumers directly.

Note that OneWeb investor and partner Richard Branson is witnessing the signing.

OneWeb's Greg Wyler signing an MOU with the Saudi MCIT

Update 11/3/2017

Greg Wyler testifying
Greg Wyler, Founder and Executive Chairman of OneWeb, testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on "The Commercial Satellite Industry: What’s Up and What’s on the Horizon."

In his introductory remarks, Wyler said their schedule had slipped by two months and they will launch their first ten satellites next May. By 2019, they will be able to offer service throughout Alaska and will cover the entire US in 2020. Their first constellation will offer connections of up to 500 mbps and have a total capacity of 7 tbps. The second constellation, planned for 2021, will offer speeds up to 2.5 tbps and bring total capacity to 120 tbps. (High speeds will be possible in lightly populated regions). The third constellation, planned for 2013, will cover 1 billion potential consumers by 2025 and have a total capacity of 1,000 tbps. By 2027 they will cover the globe.

Wyler said they and their partners will invest $30 billion and provide many high-paying jobs. They will partner with local ISPs and phone companies in marketing their service. He also spoke of space debris and reentry casualties.

After the introductory remarks, the senators asked questions of the panelists. Mr. Wyler said the US is the technology leader among spacefaring nations and, if we take the lead in regulation, other nations and the International Telecommunication Union would follow. For example, he feels that a 125 km orbital altitude separation should be maintained between satellites and they should be limited to a five-year lifespan.

Several senators asked about pricing and data caps and Mr. Wyler responded that their partner ISPs, not OneWeb, would set prices that were affordable in their regions -- we can expect a customer in a high-GDP nation to pay considerably more than a customer in a low-GDP nation. He also stressed the importance of safety, saying investments would dry up if there were a satellite collision and he said prolonged uncertainty over spectrum-sharing would also dampen investment.

You can read Wyler's written testimony summarizing their plans, expected benefits and policy recommendations here or watch his oral testimony, beginning 1:02:50 of the archived video of the hearing. Representatives of OneWeb, Intelsat and ViaSat also testified, but, Boeing was noticeably absent.

Update 12/11/2017

OneWeb is deepening ties with partners.

Softbank has invested an additional $500 million in OneWeb, bringing their total investment to $1.5 billion. They previously had a 40% stake in OneWeb and their share will remain under 50%

Boeing is also developing ties to OneWeb. They will build satellites for O3b, a company Wyler founded. It has also been reported that Boeing wants to give one of its V-band satellite broadband FCC filings to SOM1101, a Wyler-controlled company. Boeing recently announced a rapid acceleration of their Mars exploration program. Might OneWeb team up with Boeing, which is developing a very large rocket for Mars missions, in order to compete with SpaceX and their large rocket, the BFR?

Update 3/14/2018

Liquid crystal display antennas
Hughes has shipped a new satellite-Internet gateway to OneWeb. It is capable of making 10,000 handoffs per second -- times have changed since antennas moved to track satellites! (Hughes has contracted to deliver 40 of these gateways to OneWeb).

Isotropic Systems has announced that they will be making a low-cost, consumer terminal that will be available to OneWeb in 2019. Note that they have developed a novel optical antenna technology.

It looks like both Isotropic and Alcan Systems are shooting for the consumer edge-terminal market with novel technologies -- Alcan antennas utilize low-cost, mass-produced liquid crystal displays.

SpaceX and OneWeb have different strategies. OneWeb is working with partners like Hughes and Isotropic Systems while SpaceX is vertically integrated; however, even if they are designing their own edge terminals, SpaceX may use components from companies like Isotropic and Alcan.

Update 3/25/2018

OneWeb has joined the Seamless Air Alliance, which is developing standards for in-flight Internet connectivity through low-Earth orbiting satellites to terrestrial Internet gateways. Early members are mobile network operators Sprint and Bharti Airtel, Delta Airlines and Airbus.

Will SpaceX Starlink join the alliance? Will medium-Earth orbit satellite Internet service provider SES-networks (O3b)? An open standard for connectivity and billing will facilitate competition.

OneWeb's Greg Wyler expects standard communication with LEO in-flight Internet service to disrupt the industry. He says they will be offering service in 2020 and there will be several competing terminal manufacturers at that time.

Update 12/16/2018

OneWeb has made two major changes to their plans.

Citing pressure from national regulators who insisted on being able to control the routes of all traffic coming into or out of their nations, OneWeb has dropped inter-satellite laser links from their design. Doing so will simplify satellite design and save money and weight, but will lead to increased latencies and require more terrestrial gateways.

They have also decided to cut the number of satellites in their initial constellation from 900 to 600. After seeing better than expected results in their satellite ground tests, they concluded that they can achieve global coverage with only 600 satellites. The satellites will cost a little more than the initially budgeted $500,000 each, but this represents a significant overall cost reduction. They have also decided that their initial priority will be connecting boats and planes before focusing on the Internet for the masses.

They have not decided whether or not the next 300 satellites will be the same design as the initial 600 or a next-generation, higher capacity design. Their first 10 satellites will launch next February and while company founder Greg Wyler said he hopes to begin service next year, that could slip to 2020.

Update 2/6/2019

OneWeb founder Greg Wyler announced that his self-funded side project, Wafer LLC, has developed $15 antenna module, paving the way for user terminals priced between $200 and $300. (The antenna is only one component of the Earth station, but it has been a sticking point). Wyler said that “The entire antenna is less than an eighth inch thick -- you can have an extremely light, thin, low-power antenna that’s very cost effective and can be produced in large volumes.” Wyler said tests of prototypes showed 50 Mbps capacity per antenna "tile" and said multiple tiles could be combined. It is not clear how many tiles there are per antenna, but presumably, combing them would cut into the number of satellites that could be visible at any one time. SpaceX just asked the FCC for permission to deploy 1 million Earth stations and is slated to begin launching their constellation in 2019. They must be capable of mass producing cheap antennas too.

Update 2/20/2019

OneWeb has pushed their launch date back to February 26 and the British Space Agency is providing them with 17 million pounds in funding. The article refers to OneWeb as UK-based -- they have operations in the US, but must be incorporated in the UK. It also describes LTE-based ground stations that could be deployed in emergencies as establishing 200-meter coverage circles.

Update 3/29/2019

Nine-minute launch timeline (Source)
In February, a Russian Soyuz rocket launched a cluster of six OneWeb test satellites. Shortly after the launch, all the satellites were reported to be healthy.

Once the testing is complete they plan 20 more Soyuz launches, each carrying up to 36 satellites. Virgin Orbit, which has a 39 mission contract, is also expected to begin launches this year. OneWeb plans to have 150 satellites in orbit by the end of this year, start regional service in 2020 with around 300 satellites and have global coverage in 2021 with 600 operating satellites and 48 spares in orbit.

The test satellites were placed in a 1,000-kilometer orbit and they will climb to 1,200 kilometers during the 60-90 day test. Perhaps the two-altitude test is related to the conflicts over sub-1,200 km orbits and spectrum between OneWeb and SpaceX. (At one time, OneWeb founder Greg Wyler and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk planned to work together, but today they are said to be personally hostile in addition to being business competitors).

OneWeb, formerly known as WorldVu Satellites, was founded in Arlington, Virginia in the US but is now headquartered in London and the UK Space Agency has given them an £18 million grant to work on 5G cellular integration through the European Space Agency. OneWeb's mission is to bridge the digital divide by 2027, and moving its headquarters to London emphasizes its position as a global company. (Airbus, Virgin Orbit and Softbank are collaborators and investors in the OneWeb project). Ironically, both the US and England are distancing themselves from Europe at this time.

Update 4/27/2019

Tim Farrar reports that Elon Musk is telling potential investors Starlink terminals will cost $500, dropping to $150 over time. If that is the case, OneWeb may have an advantage since they are reporting steady low-cost antenna improvement. (The OneWeb antenna shown here is much smaller than the tablet it is resting on).

That being said, an investment of $500 is a relatively small part of the cost of ongoing broadband Internet service to a home or a school or other organization.

Update 6/25/2019

The FCC has granted OneWeb's application for an experimental license to operate 75 earth stations across the US.

Update 1/13/2020

OneWeb hopes to establish three ground stations in China. They have signed a "framework agreement" for one in Sanya, a city in southern China, and hope to have that and two others approved. They are also seeking partners to market and support their service. They plan a total of 45 global ground stations.

Update 1/20/2020

Pacific Dataport Inc, a subsidiary of established geostationary satellite company, Microcom, has signed an agreement to distribute OneWeb Internet service in Alaska. (The Web site refers to it as an "exclusive agreement with Alaska and Hawaii," but the press release does not mention Hawaii or exclusivity). Regardless, you can sign up to be notified when the service becomes available now. The service will be available "as early as" the fourth quarter of 2020.

Update 2/17/2020

The team with sats ready to go source
On February 7, Arianespace launched the first 34 of 648 Internet-service satellites for OneWeb. The satellites were deployed in nine batches at an altitude of 450 km and they will self-propel to their operational orbit of 1,200 km. altitude and 87.4° inclination. OneWeb confirmed signal acquisition with all 34 satellites within hours after launch.

They plan one more launch in March and then they will take a "breather" to produce a newly designed element of the satellite. They expect to conduct customer demos by the end of 2020 and to provide full commercial global services for maritime, aviation, government and enterprise in 2021.

Update 3/3/2020

OneWeb has obtained the permit -- signed an MOU -- for working in Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan. I wonder if it is exclusive? This sort of thing is necessary along with launches and technology.

Update 3/20/2020

Bloomberg reports that OneWeb is considering filing for bankruptcy. If that is the case, it is bad news. We need a competition. I would not want to see SpaceX or Hongyun or any other company become a monopoly ISP in any nation or region.

Might Amazon acquire OneWeb?

Update 12/13/2020 OneWeb has emerged from bankruptcy and chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal says they planned to offer coverage in most of northern Europe by October or November of next year and would cover the entire world by may or June of 2022. He also said the current 648 satellites would be able to provide precision timing service and that the next generation would offer positioning, navigation and timing services.

Click here for a couple of earlier posts on OneWeb.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Annals of sleazy political fundraising

This morning, contact@victory.donaldtrump.com sent me an email offering a chance to enter a lottery for a trip to a Trump rally:

The email greeted me as "friend" and was signed by Trump himself. Trump said the winner would be flown to the rally and have his or her picture taken with him. (He did not say anything about per diem or a stay at a Trump hotel. I wonder if it would be a business class flight.)

I clicked on the Enter Now button and was taken to the solicitation page at https://donate.donaldjtrump.com:

I checked, and it turns out that the domain name donaldjtrump.com belongs to "THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION" (their caps).

I wonder how the receipts for those contributions are divided up.

Update 8/17/2017

I just got another offer to enter the raffle for a trip to a rally. This one is telling me I better hurry to donate because the deadline for entering the drawing is drawing near: "All it takes is ANY CONTRIBUTION before 11:59 PM, Friday, August 18, 2017, to be entered to win this once-in-a-lifetime chance".

Trump is shameless.


I get these offers every day since I am on Trump's email list, but this one stands out. It came from Trump Headquarters and is addressed to friend.

Trump HQ says that "Just like before the election, we don’t trust the approval polls of President Trump that the media continue to put out ... Instead, we want to hear straight from you (italics in the original).

The poll asks only one question (there is a textbox for an optional comment).

I submitted an empty form -- no vote and no comment -- but I was still thanked and asked to contribute a suggested amount between $25 and $2,700 one time or, optionally, on a monthly recurring basis. The old $1 option has been replaced by "other" -- evidently, too many people were only giving a cheesy $1.

Does anyone believe this is an unbiased poll? Does Trump think his supporters are dumb enough to consider this a legitimate poll? I guess the answers must be "yes" or they would not keep sending this sort of thing out.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Are all politicians this blatant and all contributors this naive?

Last Saturday, Newt Gingrich sent me an email inviting me to the President's Trust. Newt said I had to act quickly because the membership list was being sent to the White House at midnight. Here's the invitation:

When I clicked on the link to join the Trust, Newt asked me for a donation. He suggested amounts a lot higher than $1 and offered me the chance to make it a recurring donation:

The next day, I got an invitation to take a survey to show the liberal fake news outlets how out of touch with the truth they were on immigration.

I took the survey and, when I submitted it, got another request for a donation. It looked a lot like Newt's.

This is my first experience with a political mailing list and I have a couple questions:

  • Is this typical -- have other presidents requested donations this frequently and this early in their terms?
  • If so, is the childish deception in these offers typical?
  • Outside of Trump's base "base," are people naove enough to fall for this sort of thing?
  • Who actually gets the money?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

SpaceX satellite Internet project status update

If all goes according to plan, SpaceX will be offering global Internet connectivity by 2024.

SpaceX orbital path schematic, source
I've been following the efforts of SpaceX and OneWeb to become global Internet service providers using constellations of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for some time. Launch times are getting close, so I'm posting a status update on SpaceX's project. (I'll do the same for OneWeb in a subsequent post).

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing titled “Investing in America’s Broadband Infrastructure: Exploring Ways to Reduce Barriers to Deployment” on May 3, 2017, and one of the expert witnesses was Patricia Cooper, SpaceX Vice President, Satellite Government Affairs.

She began her oral testimony with a description of SpaceX and its capability and went on to outline the disparities in broadband availability and quality and the domestic and global broadband market opportunities.

Next she presented their two-stage plan. The first, LEO, satellite constellation will consist of 4,425 satellites operating in 83 orbital planes at altitudes ranging from 1,110 to 1,325 km. They plan to launch a prototype satellite before the end of this year and a second one during the early months of 2018. They will start launching operational satellites in 2019, will begin offering commercial service in the 2020-21 time frame and will complete the first constellation by 2024.

The LEO satellites launched in the first phase of the project will enable SpaceX to bring the Internet to all underserved and rural areas of the Earth. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX will be offering global Internet connectivity by 2024. These satellites may also have an advantage over terrestrial networks for long-range backhaul links since they will require fewer router hops, as shown in the following illustration comparing a terrestrial route (14 hops) with a satellite route (5 hops) between Los Angeles and a University in Punta Arenas, Chile (The figure is drawn to scale).

Ms. Cooper also said they had filed for authority to launch a second constellation of 7,500 satellites operating closer to the Earth -- in very low Earth orbit (VLEO). A 2016 patent by Mark Krebs, then at Google, now at SpaceX, describes the relationship between the two constellations.

I don't have dates for the second constellation, but the satellite altitudes will range from 335.9 to 345.6 km. (The International Space Station orbits at 400 km). These satellites will be able to provide high-speed, low-latency connectivity because of their low-altitude orbits. Coverage of the two constellations will overlap, allowing for dynamic handoffs between them when desirable. When this second constellation is complete, SpaceX might be able to compete with terrestrial networks in densely populated urban areas.

These VLEO satellites might also be used for Earth imaging and sensing applications and a bullish article by Gavin Sheriden suggests they may also connect all Tesla cars and Tesla solar roofs.

Very low Earth orbit (VLEO) satellites have smaller footprints,
but are faster and have lower latency times than higher
altitude satellites. Image Source

Ms. Cooper concluded her testimony with a discussion of administrative barriers they were encountering and listed six specific policy recommendation. You can see her full written testimony here. The entire hearing is shown below and Ms. Cooper's testimony begins at 13:54.

I will follow this post with a similar update on OneWeb, SpaceX's formidable competitor in the race to become a global Internet service provider using satellites.

Global connectivity is a rosy prospect, but we must ask one more question. Success by either or both of these companies could, like the shift from dial-up to broadband, disrupt the Internet service industry. As of July/August, 1997, there were 4,009 ISPs in North America and today few people in the United States have more than two ISP choices. Might we end up with only one or two global Internet service providers and, if so, what sort of regulation, if any, would be beneficial?

Update 9/21/2017

Evidently SpaceX will name their satellite Internet service Starlink. They applied to trademark the name last month and described the service as follows:

Update 9/27/2017

The SpaceX Internet service project hit a roadblock yesterday when the FCC voted to delay it due to fear of radio interference with OneWeb and Telesat satellites. Like SpaceX, OneWeb is planning to provide Internet service with a constellation of low-Earth orbiting satellites and they and Telesat have reserved International Telecommunication Union (ITU) priority rights to spectrum SpaceX plans to use.

OneWeb technique to avoid inference
with geostationary satellites (source)
ITU priority does not mean they have exclusive use of their frequencies and it is not a permanent designation, but SpaceX will have to work out a spectrum-sharing scheme that OneWeb and Telesat agree to. OneWeb has already patented a technique they say will avoid interference with Telesat's geostationary satellites, which orbit at much higher altitudes around the equator.

I am not an expert in such matters, but it seems that we are at the start of a transition from exclusive spectrum rights to an era of unlicensed spectrum (like WiFi) and spectrum sharing. This fundamental shift will enable efficient use of spectrum (on Earth and in space). It is reminiscent of the shift from circuit-switching to packet-switching and will take years to complete.

I understand OneWeb's desire to delay the SpaceX project for business reasons, but they seem to be on the wrong side of the technology trend in this case and delaying SpaceX is not in the best interest of society.

For more on this ruling and its implications, click here.

Update 9/29/2017

Elon Musk gave a terrific talk on SpaceX's

Reliable reusability makes BFR launches cheaper than others.
The key to reducing cost is their shift to a new rocket, called, for now, the Big F***ing Rocket or BFR. The BFR will carry a 150-ton payload (10 times that of their current Falcon 9) and have an extra landing-guidance engine for reliable reusability. (They have now successfully landed 16 straight boosters with only one engine). As shown here, marginal cost per BFR launch will be the lowest of all SpaceX rockets, which are cheaper than any others.

Musk said they would soon begin soft-landing and reusing second stage rockets as well as boosters and he suggested that the BFR and its reusable second stage may be able to retrieve spent satellites in the future.

I don't know how many Internet satellites will fit in a BFR 150-ton payload module, but the BFR may give SpaceX a cost advantage over competitors OneWeb and Boeing. (Note that Boeing is also planning a Mars mission, so they may have something novel up their sleeve).

For more on the BFR and it's role in the satellite Internet project see this post.

You can see a number of the slides from Musk's talk here and I heartily recommend watching the talk:

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 10/28/2017

Patricia Cooper testifying
SpaceX vice president of satellite government affairs Patricia Cooper testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on "The Commercial Satellite Industry: What’s Up and What’s on the Horizon."

She said they would launch two prototype satellites within the next few months and would begin operation in 2019. Launching the full 4,425 LEO satellite constellation will take about five years and commercial service will begin with 800 satellites in the 2020-1 time frame. At that time, they will cover the entire US. (OneWeb will also cover the US first for political reasons and because we have a high-margin Internet market due to our GDP and lack of terrestrial ISP competition).

Ms. Cooper said their emphasis was on building constellation capacity by increasing the throughput of each satellite and increasing the number of satellites in orbit as quickly as possible. When the constellation is fully deployed, they will have "over 20 satellites in view from any spot in the US." She also said that if operators cannot agree on techniques to share spectrum, the FCC (and ITU) will divide and allocate fixed spectrum blocks and no one wants that so they are motivated to rapidly develop spectrum-sharing techniques.

Ms. Cooper did not give a timeline for the second constellation of 7,500 VLEO satellites mentioned above, but it sounds like they expect this constellation to enable them to eventually compete in urban areas and it will be interesting to see how well they can compete with terrestrial ISPs at that time.

You can read her written testimony describing their plans, expected benefits and policy recommendations here or watch her oral testimony, beginning 45:50 of the archived video of the hearing. Representatives of OneWeb, Intelsat and ViaSat also testified, but, Boeing was noticeably absent. Ms. Cooper and the others answered questions after their introductory oral testimony.

Update 12/8/2017

SpaceX has postponed the first launch of their new Falcon Heavy booster until early next January. (It has been delayed several times). The payload will be a Tesla Roadster, which hopefully will be inserted into orbit around Mars:

Musk has a sense of humor (the payload of their first Dragon booster flight was a giant wheel of cheese) but this is also a publicity stunt with symbolic value. If the flight is a success, it will be widely publicized and serve as near-permanent marker of the beginning of our transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. As a final touch, the car radio will be playing David Bowie's song, Space Oddity.

The Falcon Heavy will also be available for launches of Internet service satellites.

Update 12/20/2017

SpaceX has released photos of the first Falcon Heavy rocket. It is expected to launch next month, putting a Tesla Roadster in solar orbit. When asked why he wanted to put the car in orbit, Musk said he loves "the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future," and so do I. That reply is even cooler than Mallory saying he climbed Mount Everest "because it's there."

They hope to retrieve and reuse the three booster rockets.

Update 1/8/2018

The SpaceX Zuma launch was a success. You can see a video of the launch here, but it ends just after the recovery of the booster because the purpose of the mission is secret. The recovery footage, near the end of the video, shows the controlled descent of the booster -- X marks the spot:

SpaceX has made booster recovery routine. Their next launch will the first for the new Falcon

(It has been rumored that the Zuma mission failed, but SpaceX will not comment because the mission was classified).

Update 1/23/2018

It looks like SpaceX will launch it's two Internet-service test satellites, Microsat-2a and 2b, on February 10th. They will be "ridesharing" with Paz, a Spanish Earth-observation satellite. Here is summary of what is known (and unknown) about the launch plan:

The satellites will measure 1.1m x 0.7m x 0.7m and, with their two 2x8 meter solar panels, will each have a mass of approximately 400kg. Satellite geeks can read the purpose of the test, test procedures and the specifications of the satellites, radios, and orbits here.

This will be a significant milestone in the race with OneWeb and others -- let's hope all goes well on February 10th.

Update 1/30/2018


I blew it -- I said it was Mars orbit because, as you see above, Elon Musk tweeted that the "destination is Mars orbit," but he misspoke.

He later corrected himself, as outlined in this post.

It turns out to be a solar orbit -- "an orbit around the Sun that takes it as close to the Sun as Earth and as far out as Mars".

Update 2/6/2018

The Falcon Heavy launch was a success! The roadster is on the way to orbit and the three side booster rockets were recovered. The center booster ran out of propellant and crashed into the ocean while trying to land on a drone ship. This was not a great loss since it was an older version 4 Falcon rocket and they had not planned to re-use it. The side rockets will also be retired since SpaceX only plans to fly version 5 Falcons in the future.

The Falcon heavy can lift a payload of 63,800 kilograms to low-Earth orbit and the Starlink Internet satellites weigh 386 kilograms. If they fit perfectly, a launch could insert about 160 satellites in orbit. The actual number will clearly be less than 160, but since I don't know about the geometric constraints and solar panel sizes, I can't estimate it reliably.

Regardless, the Falcon Heavy will play a stratgeic role in launching the constellation. Fewer launches will be needed, which will speed deployment and, if they are able to continue re-using boosters, launch cost per satellite will be reduced. (The two side boosters used in this launch had been flown previously).

Here are some launch photos:

Ready to go


Three bosters burning

View of the three boosters from onboard

Side boosters descending

Synchronized landing

They did it!

The roadster and dummy in orbit -- for a billion years

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. The Starlink test satellites will be "ridesharing" on the launch of Paz, a Spanish Earth observation satellite. Ridesharing with commercial launches lowers SpaceX's cost relative to competitors.

Update 2/17/2018

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai gave SpaceX a Valentine day present when he proposed that the FCC grant SpaceX's request to offer its Starlink LEO satellite Internet service in the US and globally. A formal vote by the Commission may be needed, but that would be a mere formality given Pai's approval.

, OneWeb and Space Norway had previously been granted permission to offer Internet service using LEO satellites. I've been following OneWeb and Telesat, but am not familiar with Space Norway's plans. They've proposed using only two satellites and it seems they may be focusing on serving the northern seas.

Update 2/22/2018

On October 29, 1969, UCLA student Charles Kline sent the first test message over the ARPANET. He was trying to log in to a computer at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), but the system crashed after he had typed only the first two letters of the word LOGIN. (Terminals were typically upper case only in those days).

By December, the ARPANET had expanded to 4 nodes – one at SRI and three at universities, as shown in this sketch which was made at that time.

Early this morning, SpaceX launched the first two test satellites for their planned Starlink Internet-service. Will we look back on February 22, 2018 as the day we took the first step toward a truly global Internet?

Update 2/22/2018

SpaceX succeeded in launching two Starlink test satellites today, but the subsequent attempt to catch and reuse the fairing (nose-cone) failed. The plan was to have the fairing fire small retro-rocket to slow it as it fell back to Earth then catch it in a large net attached to a ship called "Mr. Steven."

This attempt failed, but, as with booster recovery, they will learn from this and any future failures and eventually succeed in recovering fairings, which cost over five million dollars. (SpaceX failed at many attempts to safely land booster rockets, but they learned from each failure and now booster recovery is fairly routine).

Mr. Steven with large "catcher's mitt"

Fairing floating in the ocean near Mr. Steven

Update 3/30/2018

On February 18, 2018, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai endorsed the SpaceX application for a constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) Internet service satellites and on March 29, the FCC approved their application to "construct, deploy, and operate a proposed non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellite system comprising 4,425 satellites for the provision of fixed-satellite service (FSS) around the world."

That makes SpaceX the fourth company with permission to operate an LEO Internet service constellation in the U. S.

The first was OneWeb on June 22, 2017. OneWeb received permission to deploy 720 LEO Internet-service satellites, subject to an important constraint that they "need to accommodate in-line interference avoidance and spectrum sharing with other NGSOs in the future." That cleared the way for spectrum sharing among all operators.

The applications of Telesat and Space Norway were both approved on November 2, 2017. Telesat was granted permission "to access the U.S. market to provide FSS using a proposed constellation of 117 NGSO satellites" and Space Norway was granted permission to "to access the U.S. market to provide FSS using a proposed constellation of two NGSO satellites." (Space Norway is planning coverage in the area north of 65 degrees N latitude, which includes northern Alaska).

Update 4/11/2018

The final version of the Falcon 9 series, the "Block 5" Falcon 9, was designed for extreme reuse because it will be used to take astronauts to the Space Station and NASA requires seven flights without making any changes in order to qualify for human flight.

Previous Falcon 9 versions were designed to be reused only two or three times, but SpaceX expects Block 5 rockets to have a 100-flight lifespan and only require refurbishing every tenth flight. This will save money and reduce recycle time and the overall time to launch the Starlink constellation. (The FCC's approval of Starlink requires that they launch at least 2,213 satellites within six years).

For a description of previous Falcon 9 version changes and the Block 5, watch this video (17:38):

Update 5/21/2018

On May 11, SpaceX launched a Bangladeshi satellite using their Falcon 9, Block 5 rocket. This was the first production flight for the Block 5. The day before the launch, Elon Musk participated in a call with reporters and the following are some of the points he made. (You can read more analysis and read a full transcript of the call here)

SpaceX accounted for over half of US
launches in 2017 and expects to
double their launch rate.
In 2017, SpaceX had 18 successful launches and Musk stated that they were on track to double their launch rate this year, implying a rate of 3 launches per month. He said that "if things go well, which is a caveat, then SpaceX will launch more rockets than any other country in 2018."

There will not be a Block 6. Musk said that after 8 years of upgrades, the Block 5 will be the last major version of the Falcon 9 before their next rocket, the BFR.

Musk expects the Block 5 "to be a mainstay of SpaceX business," and there will be 300 or more Block 5 flights before it is retired in favor of the BFR.

The Block 5 is designed for rapid-turnaround reusability. It is "designed to do 10 or more flights with no refurbishment between each flight — or at least not scheduled refurbishment between each flight. The only thing that needs to change is you reload propellant and fly again." He also said that "the Block 5 boosters are capable of on the order of at least 100 flights before being retired."

Musk has set a goal of demonstrating "two orbital launches of the same Block 5 vehicle within 24 hours, no later than next year."

The Block 5 was designed "to be the most reliable rocket ever built." They have exceeded all of NASA's human-rating requirements and have met "all of the Air Force requirements for extreme reliability."

Reliable reusability will cut cost dramatically. Musk broke down launch cost as follows: booster about 60 percent, upper stage 20 percent, fairing 10% and the launch cost 10%. If they are able to reuse all three rocket elements, they would be able to "reduce the cost for launch by an order of magnitude ... to $5-6 million per launch." Musk pointed out that getting to this point had taken "16 years of extreme effort" (and a lot of learning from failures).

The ability to launch 30 Falcon 9s per year at a cost of $5-6 million per launch, would be a big plus for SpaceX's Starlink Internet service.

Update 5/27/2018

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell gave a recent interview in which she said that SpaceX is profitable, but she predicts a much larger market for the Starlink Internet service. (As we see here, a January 2017 Wall Street Journal article made the same point).

Shotwell also spoke of synergies among Elon Musk's companies: Tesla cars will be online via the Starlink Internet service; Tesla battery technology has been leveraged for the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft and Boring Company technology will be used in housing construction on Mars. They have also learned manufacturing techniques from Tesla and will be able to produce one rocket engine per day and two complete Falcon 9 rockets per month.

She also said they remain on schedule to take people to Mars in 2024, and, when asked about Elon Musk, she said he spends about half his time on SpaceX and half on Tesla and that he is an inspirational leader.

Click here for a survey and updated progress report on SpaceX Starlink and other potential LEO-satellite based Internet service providers.

Update 6/5/2018

Last week, Elon Musk was asked on Twitter how the Starlink tests were going and he replied that the two test satellites, TinTin A and B, are connecting at "high bandwidth" with 25 ms latency.

That's good news but it leaves a lot unanswered. For example, he did not mention the speed and reliability of the phased-array handoffs between the satellites and ground terminals and he said nothing about tests of the inter-satellite laser links.

While we have experience with radio links between satellites and the ground, inter-satellite laser links are new so I'm more curious about those tests. What sorts of speeds and latencies are they seeing on transmissions between TinTin A and B and how well are they doing at creating and maintaining links between the satellites? Fast inter-satellite switching and transmission speed are critical to overall performance of the constellation grid, particularly on long-distance links.

Update 11/26/2018

The FCC approved a revision to the plan for Starlink, SpaceX's forthcoming broadband satellite service. The new plan reduces the number of satellites from 4,525 to 4,409 and lowers the altitude of the phase-1 satellites from 1,100 to 550 km and authorizes the use of V-band frequencies. The FCC has also approved the use of V-band spectrum by SpaceX, but I am not sure whether they plan to use it for their LEO or VLEO satellites. Click here for a cool, inciteful simulation of the revised plan.

Update 12/21/2018

Financial analyst Brian Wang predicts that Elon Musk's Mars plan will be financially unstoppable in four years because of the early success of his Starlink Internet service satellite constellation. Wang assumes that two critical technologies -- free-space laser & phased-array links will be working in 2019 and financial traders will pay big bucks for low latency links. He expects it will be easy for SpaceX to raise capital after 2022, enabling them to self-fund the Mars plan. (It is unsettling to think that shaving milliseconds off of financial trades is a critical link in establishing global Internet service or Mars exploration).

SpaceX is set to raise $500 million at a $30.5 billion valuation -- will that suffice to fund them through the point where Mars is unstoppable?

Wang does not mention competition. OneWeb has dropped their inter-satellite laser links, but Telesat seems to be moving quickly and they too have their eye on the financial market

Update 2/6/2019

SpaceX has formed a sister company, SpaceX Services, to market connectivity. SpaceX Services filed an FCC application to operate up to 1 million Earth stations for end-user customers -- presumably homes and organizations like schools or community centers.

The SpaceX Services application repeats their plan to begin launching satellites to populate its LEO constellation in 2019, so SpaceX must have or be acquiring a low-cost phased array antenna.

For further discussion of the SpaceX Services application, check out this discussion on Reddit.

Update 4/3/2019

Reading the tea leaves in SpaceX's forthcoming launch manifest, Michael Baylor concludes that the second of two upcoming Falcon Heavy missions, sometime after mid-May, will be dedicated to launching several operational Starlink Internet-service satellites.

Eric Ralph speculates that these first Starlink satellites will use only Ku-band spectrum, with Ku added in subsequent versions. He points out that this would be consistent with the continuous incremental improvement strategy that both Tesla and SpaceX employ. (After their first batch of 75 satellites, SpaceX is already committed to switching to materials that will completely burn up in the atmosphere during reentry).

For more on the upcoming first operational launch click here.

Starlink becoming operational this summer, would give SpaceX a publicity jump on OneWeb and Telesat and, more important, the experience would guide subsequent refinement of technology and operations.

Update 4/24/2019

The first tranche of SpaceX's Starlink Internet-service satellites is scheduled to be launched in early May and they have applied for temporary permission for them to communicate with six ground stations immediately after launch rather than waiting until they are at their final approved operational orbit altitude. That will enable early testing and correction of any problems and get them a few extra days head-start over the competition.

I wonder how many satellites will be in that first tranche.

Update 4/27/2019

Tim Farrar reports that Elon Musk is telling potential investors Starlink terminals will cost $500, dropping to $150 over time. If that is the case, OneWeb may have an advantage since they are reporting steady low-cost antenna improvement. (The OneWeb antenna shown here is much smaller than the tablet it is resting on).

That being said, an investment of $500 is a relatively small part of the cost of ongoing broadband Internet service to a home or a school or other organization.

Update 5/12/2019
In a talk last week, SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell said they planned to launch "dozens" of Starlink Internet-service satellites on May 15th and that there could be two-six more launches during the year. She said the first batch would not have inter-satellite links and declined to say how many would be launched on the 15th.

Elon Musk has elaborated in a tweet saying they would launch a surprising 60 satellites. (For comparison, OneWeb has launched six and Telesat 2). Musk acknowledged that this would be a risky launch, saying "Much will likely go wrong on 1st mission." They will be using an untested method for packing so many satellites inside the rocket fairing and imagine the cost of losing 60 satellites in case of a failure.

He also said they would need six more launches of 60 satellites for "minor" coverage and 12 for "moderate" coverage. SpaceX has said they would begin offering broadband service when there were 800 satellites in orbit. If all goes well, we might see commercial service beginning sometime next year.

In her talk, Shotwell referred to these as "demonstration" satellites, but I imagine they will be used for production once service begins. In the meantime, they will probably be used in marketing and also help SpaceX raise capital, which they have had difficulty doing recently.

One question remains -- when will they begin launching satellites with inter-satellite links?

Update 5/23/2019

SpaceX's launch of 60 Starlink Internet-service satellites was a success! Here you see the satellite cluster before launch, the deployment of the cluster at an altitude of 440 km, the beginning of their separation, and the recoverd booster rocket on a SpaceX barge at sea.

The satellites separated because the cluster was slowly rotating, then thrusters fired raising them to an operational altitude of 550km. Recovery of expensive boosters is becoming commonplace for SpaceX.

Update 5/27/2019

Video of the entire launch and deployment:

Video of the train of Starlink satellites passing over Leiden, the Netherlands, about 22.5 hours after launch.
Video with WATEC 902H + Canon FD 1.8/50 mm lens, GPS time inserter:

Miscellaneous Updates 11/7/2019

SpaceX has succeeded in catching half of a $6 million fairing before it hit the water. You can see a video of the catch here. Since they have apparently learned from their failures and are planning a lot of launches, they have also outfitted a second fairing-catching ship. The ships are named Ms. Chief and Ms. Tree.

SpaceX has asked the International Telecommunication Union to allocate spectrum for 30,000 Starlink satellites in addition to the 12,000 that have already been authorized by the US Federal Communication Commission. This is long-range planning -- they will be replacing retired satellites before they start launching the 30,000 new ones.

The US Air Force is Starlink's first paying customer. They signed a $28 million contract last year and have communicated with a C-12 military transport plane in flight at 610 Mbps using SpaceX's two test satellites, TinTin A and B.

This post presents the results of simulations of the first year of Starlink coverage and speculates on long run pricing and potential roadblocks.

Update 2/19/2020

Elon Musk tweeted that the anti-glare coating on their test "dark" satellite is performing well.

That being said, the International Astronomical Union reports continued concern that "Apart from their naked-eye visibility, it is estimated that the trails of the constellation satellites will be bright enough to saturate modern detectors on large telescopes. Wide-field scientific astronomical observations will therefore be severely affected." They also note that "The focus of this Statement has been on the optical wavelengths. This is not to underplay the effect on the radio and submillimetre wavelength ranges, which is still under investigation."

SpaceX has launched another 60 satellites, bringing their total to 300. Unfortunately, they failed to save the booster rocket and fairings for reuse.

Update 2/22/2020

Long run Internet layers (source)
The US Airforce is the first Starlink customer. As noted above, the Block 5 booster has met all of the Air Force requirements for extreme reliability and last year SpaceX demonstrated communication between a C-12 military transport plane in flight at 610 Mbps their two test satellites, TinTin A and B.

SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell has confirmed that they will be testing Starlink with “a number” of additional military aircraft types. The contract also includes testing of communications between satellites in orbit and Dr. Will Roper, the head of Air Force acquisitions, says the branch will have a “massive” demonstration event on April 8 that will include testing applications of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites to “a greater degree,” connecting to platforms both in the air and on land.

We are moving toward a multi-layer Internet -- from terrestrial to deep space.

Update 7/15/2020

Raymond Li looked through the Javascript of the Starlink beta test agreement and discovered that it was limited to users between the 44th and 52nd parallels north.

The JS also states the financial terms of the beta test:

"These charges are not a fee for the Starlink hardware or services but are being requested exclusively to allow for the testing of our ordering and billing systems as part of this beta program. SpaceX is temporarily loaning you the hardware and providing the internet services free of charge. The $1 will be charged 30 days after your hardware is shipped. This invitation is not transferable to any other address."

Update 10/1/2020
After receiving over 700,000 expressions of interest from all 50 states, SpaceX requested an increase in the number of authorized user terminals from one million to five million. They also announced that they are able to manufacture 200 satellites per month, keeping up with their target launch rate.

Update 10/11/2020

The Starlink beta test is avaialble between 44 and 52 degrees north lattitude, which includes relatively prosperous parts of North America and Europe. A close observer of Starlink reports that SpaceX is said to be trying to secure roof space on data centers in Europe. They already have many US groundstations covering the area beetween 44 and 52 degrees in North America and they have applied for a ground station in Cromwell New Zealand, which is 45.06 degrees south.

The following is a list of European capital cities falling within the 44-52 degree north beta test area. (Let me know if I missed any).

Update 1/7/2021

The Starlink beta rollout is under way. The beta is available in the northern US, southern Canada and parts of the UK. A beta tester has even been spotted in the Czech Republic. Beta prices are affordable for many connectivity-deprived rural users in relatively affluent nations, but may be lower in poorer nations. Affiliate companines have also been established in several nations and ground stations are being built.