The First Detailed Look at How Elon Musk's Space Internet Could Work
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November 09 '18 at 09:10 AM
By msmash from
Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department
SpaceX has been granted permission by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to set up a vast network of thousands of low Earth orbit communication satellites. But the company has been tight-lipped about the project, known as Starlink. Mark Handley, University College London built a simulator based on public details from the FCC filings to understand the latency properties of the network. New Scientist reports: Although Musk has said he wants more than half of all internet traffic to go through Starlink -- Handley's simulation suggests that the project will be most appealing to high-frequency traders at big banks, who might be willing to fork out large sums for dedicated, faster connections. To create the simulation, Handley took what information he could from SpaceX's public FCC filings and combined this with his knowledge of computer networks. Initially, Starlink will consist of 4425 satellites orbiting between 1100 and 1300 kilometres up, a greater number of active satellites than are currently in orbit. There is only one way to arrange this many in a configuration that minimises collisions, says Handley. So he is confident that his simulation reflects what SpaceX is going for. When sending an internet message via Starlink, a ground station will begin by using radio waves to talk to a satellite above it. Once in space, the message will be fired from satellite to satellite using lasers until it is above its destination. From there, it will be beamed down to the right ground station using radio waves again. Between distant places, this will allow messages to be sent about twice as fast as through the optical fibres on Earth that currently connect the internet, despite having to travel to space and back. This is because the speed of the signal in glass is slower than it is through space.
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