February 23, 2018 // 11:37 a.m.
Private spaceflight venture SpaceX has launched the first pair in a planned constellation of satellites designed to offer global broadband connectivity by 2020.
Following the delay to a launch originally scheduled to take place this weekend, SpaceX - founded by Elon Musk, electric vehicle magnate and electronic internet-borne payments pioneer - successfully launched the first two satellites for its Starlink global broadband platform. Dubbed Tintin A and B, the satellites are to serve as a demonstration platform for the Starlink platform - which, if Musk has his way, will be served by a constellation of thousands of satellites spanning the globe with the first consumers being invited to the service by 2020.
Under the company's publicly-announced plan, Starlink will be comprised of nearly 12,000 SpaceX-owned micro-satellites in a circular low-Earth orbit plus an unknown number of third-party satellites communicating on the same bus. Significantly larger in scale than Samsung's 2015 satellite internet proposal (PDF warning) and the rival 882-satellite Richard Branson-backed OneWeb constellation, Starlink is projected by its creators to boast the bandwidth necessary to take on up to 50 percent of all backhaul communications traffic and as much as 10 percent of local internet traffic in high-density cities.
Its key feature, however, would be providing connectivity to rural areas and developing nations currently under-served by traditional broadband infrastructure. According to SpaceX the system is designed to be as low-cost as possible with base station hardware costing as little as $200, boasting simple installation, and requiring no expensive licensing on the part of the end-user. The Starlink system also ties into Musks' desire to travel to and, ultimately, colonise Mars, which would have its own Starlink constellation linked to Earth's.
While SpaceX has confirmed the successful launch of the test satellites, the company has not yet confirmed whether it is on-track for opening Starlink to a limited number of end-users by 2020.