Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


SpaceX launches sixty more Starlink satellites; plus an installation report from one customer

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched another 60 Starlink satellites, using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The first stage on its sixth flight however failed to land successfully. It is amazing that we now expect these landings to succeed, proving how reliable we now expect SpaceX’s rocket to be.

The 2021 launch race:

5 SpaceX
3 China
2 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Virgin Orbit

The U.S. now leads China 7 to 3 in the national rankings. Another SpaceX launch is scheduled for tomorrow, followed by a Rocket Lab launch a little more than 24 hours later.

A report from one Starlink customer on his installation experience

The sixty new Starlink satellites bring the constellation to more than 1,100 satellites, allowing SpaceX to continue expanding regions where it is offering the service. Below the fold is an update from reader Steve Golson on his experience installing his own Starlink dish and service in Maine, now running for several days. Rather than cut and past sections, I think it best to quote his email to me in its entirety, including some of the images he sent. The opinions expressed are Steve’s alone, but they are coming from a customer who appears very satisfied with the product, up to now.

Starlink box opened with instructions on top
Open box with instructions.

Open box with instructions removed
Starlink dish as shipped.

Dish assembled

Steve Golson’s report

Starlink arrives via ground shipment. The box is about 1ft x 2 ft x 3 ft and weighs 30 pounds. There are handles cut into the box so it’s fairly easy to move around.

When you open the box, the first thing you see are these instructions. This is it. This is all you get. But, it’s all you need! Starlink really is dead simple to set up.

Lift out the instruction card, and a top plastic cover, and you see all of Starlink.

This is beautiful packaging. Notice what you do not get: no plastic bags, no twist ties, no boxes of parts, no instruction books, no cardboard fillers. The components are already connected together, just the way you will use it. There’s no question about which cable plugs in where. This was all carefully designed to make installation an enjoyable experience for the user.

(Oh, and that folded piece of paper is the mandatory government Regulatory Notices. In 25 languages.)

Included in the box:

  • Dish (with attached black mast pointing to lower right)
  • Mounting tripod
  • Power supply (black box at top, with power cord above it)
  • Wi-Fi router (white box at bottom)
  • White Ethernet cable connecting power supply with router
  • Black Ethernet cable, 100 ft, connecting power supply with dish (it’s permanently attached to the dish)

Dish comes standard with this tripod mount, which works great but keeps the dish low to the ground. Starlink also offers an adapter that allows you to attach the dish to various standard antenna mounting brackets. I’ve got one of these adapters on order and my eventual plan is to mount the dish on our roof.

The dish surface is very flat, hence the nickname Dishy McFlatface. (Yes, that name appears in some of the Starlink documentation!) Dish is 2 ft in diameter and weighs about 12 pounds.

The video below shows what happened when the dish first powered on and automatically pointed itself to the sky.

After it has run for a few minutes, the dish tilts down a little from the initial flat orientation, giving it a better view of the current satellite constellation, which is mostly to the north. After that the dish typically doesn’t move. All tracking is done electronically.

The surface of the dish is a special hydrophobic material that repels water. As for snow, the Starlink FAQ says:

Your Starlink has Snow Melt functionality, which allows your Starlink to automatically use the power it draws to heat itself to melt the snow off the dish. This feature helps to prevent impacts on service, while also preventing the need for you to get on the roof to remove the snow from your Starlink.

It’s unclear whether the dish has a special heater for snow melt, or perhaps it just relies on the normal power dissipation of the electronics inside.

The Starlink app has a cool stats page, which tells you how much data you have been using, and (very important) tells you why your connection has dropped: No Satellites, Obstruction, Beta Downtime. I’ve seen anywhere from 50–180 Mbps download speeds. This is astonishing performance.

Starlink really needs a clear view of the sky. No obstructions. The app has a “Check For Obstructions” feature that helps you pick a location for your dish. Here’s some of the official Starlink FAQs:

Install your Starlink at the highest elevation possible, where it is safe to do so, with the clearest view of the sky. Starlink needs a clear view of the sky to ensure the best quality service. Your Starlink needs to be able to “see” every part of the sky so that it has the best opportunity to connect with passing satellites.

You should think about communication between your Starlink dish and the satellite in space as a ‘skinny beam’ between Starlink and the satellite. So, as the satellite passes quickly overhead, if there is a branch or pole between your Starlink and the satellite you will usually lose connection (note – obstructions generally cause outages and not reduced speeds).

The Starlink team is working on future software features that, combined with the growth of our constellation, will reduce the amount of clear sky needed to maintain a continuous connection so obstructions will be less impactful.

The 100ft black Ethernet cable between the dish and the power supply is quite thick. It has a substantial ferrite bead at either end, and you need at least a 3/4″ hole to pass it inside your house. The cable is hard-wired to the dish, so you can’t use your own existing wiring. You’ll have to route this cable. (There is a significant amount of power being transferred through this cable to the dish, and the Starlink engineers want to guarantee the cable is beefy enough to handle it. That’s why it’s not removable.)

The included Wi-Fi router is very good. I got excellent coverage while I was experimenting with it. Using Starlink Wi-Fi for everything will be a fine solution for most customers. Nevertheless, their router also provides a hard-wired Ethernet port. And if you are a network geek like me, you can use your own router for everything. Simply plug into the white jack on the Starlink power supply, in place of the Starlink Wi-Fi router. There’s quite a few “how I did it” posts on Reddit.

All in all, I’m extremely impressed with the engineering here. The equipment is beautifully constructed. Elegant, even. Installation is straightforward. (Perhaps a bit awkward to route that cable, but any internet install would have similar issues.) Performance is amazing. Low-latency high-bandwidth internet, from a small dish in my backyard. Incredible.

On the other hand, I don’t think this is a viable solution for city dwellers. Those customers won’t have enough clear sky to make it work. Perhaps one Starlink shared for an apartment/office building? But most cities are wired already. In my rural location, I do not have access to fiber, cable, or DSL. I can’t even get plain old telephone service! Starlink is a game changer for customers like us. [Editor’s note: Where I live in Tucson Starlink will work for almost the entire city population, as we have few apartment buildings and most homes are on reasonably large lots with very clear views of the sky. And the few apartment buildings can easily install one for all.]

And remember, Starlink is still in beta. It will only get better as Starlink builds out. As the full constellation gets launched, and once the satellite cross-link capability is introduced, I suspect we will see:

  • Worldwide coverage (Currently, beta program is limited to very northern latitudes, and the service location must be near a Starlink ground station.)
  • Better obstruction handling (Right now for a given dish, at any given moment, only one satellite is used. In the future, if the dish can choose between several sats, then your dish can learn how to mitigate around any fixed obstructions.)
  • Mobile ground stations (Right now the dish has to be stationary, and only works within a limited “cell” area that spans a few miles.)
  • Even better performance

Here’s my only worry: this equipment cost me $499. Various people have done teardowns and analysis of this equipment, and conservatively estimate it costs $2,500 to manufacture. Starlink has to figure out how to get the cost down, if they really want to roll this out to many customers. Like Elon Musk says, “Every new satellite constellation in history has gone bankrupt. We hope to be the first that does not.”

That’s all for now. I’ll keep you informed as our Starlink adventure continues.

Readers!
 

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Your support is even more essential to me because I keep this site free from advertisements and do not participate in corrupt social media companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook. I depend wholly on the direct support of my readers.


You can provide that support to Behind The Black with a contribution via Patreon or PayPal. To use Patreon, go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation. For PayPal click one of the following buttons:
 


 

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


 

If Patreon or Paypal don't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
 

Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

12 comments

  • Jay

    I really want one of these! A local ham radio operator living outside of Spokane WA. recently got one and reported “running a
    consistent 100 down and 30-40 up” rate. It also has been able to keep up with all the snow we have been getting lately.

  • Jeff Wright

    I would still like to see Starship or Falcon Heavy place a large Orbital Antenna Farm in geosynch’ with Dragon XL for the type of Comm-Station that A. C. Clark wanted.
    The frame remains with dishes… The electronic breadboards being swapped out.
    Additions possible-multi-use.

  • Compliments to Steve Golson for sharing his experience with new tech; a fun and interesting read. Not sure if the $99/month price would work for me, given options in the my area. Still, new tech coming in at a reasonable price, and reliable operation ‘out-of-the-box’.

    Thanks!

  • wayne

    Yes, great info from Steve!

    Ref: “Various people have done teardowns and analysis of this equipment, and conservatively estimate it costs $2,500 to manufacture. ”

    Could somebody expand on that thought? (I’m just a social-science major, but that number feels excessive.)

  • LocalFluff

    My update after the last launch posted here, on LEO maximum capacity successfully launched (I was at least 20 kg off last time, I’ll make a structured spread sheet out of this tomorrow):

    WORLD 157,220 kg
    USA 114,800 kg 73%
    CHINA 27,200 kg 17%
    RUSSIA 15,220 kg 9.7%

    USA 114,800 kg
    SpaceX (114,000 kg)
    + 5 of Falcon 9 Block 5 = 22,800 kg each *UPDATED*
    Rocket Lab (300 kg)
    + 1 of Electron = 300 kg each
    Virgin Galactic (500 kg)
    + 1 of LauncherOne = 500 kg as to SSO230km each

    CHINA 27,200 kg
    + 2 of Long March 3B/E = 11,500 kg each
    + 1 of Long March 4C = 4,200 kg each
    – 1 of Hyperbola 1 = 300 kg LAUNCH FAILURE

    RUSSIA 15,220 kg
    + 1 of Soyuz 2.1a = 7,020 kg each
    + 1 of Soyuz 2.1b = 8,200 kg each

    For the British and Americans, you can intuitively translate the rational units to your own by considering that 10,000 kg is the same as 7,874 long and 1,653 short tonnes, 47 and a quarter stones, the weight of a yard length British brown oak log at 12 7/13 inch diameter, 154 and a half pound sterling silver 883 shilling and 2,649 pence, with 8 13½/17th pints of beer. Give or take a cup of salt.

  • Joe Rosario

    Thanks for sharing your experience Steve Golson. It will be interesting to see how this product matures over time.

  • Sayomara

    Nice write up. I’m interested to hear what happened with the landing of the first stage. On a related note to starlink. Spacex did a polar launch out of Florida a few weeks ago and there was reporting that it was the first polar launch down the space coast in a long time. I didn’t think about it much at that time but those satellites were heading into the Southern Hemisphere for places like Austria. It is interesting of see all the different types of Launches SpaceX is needing to do, to make this constellation a reality.

  • James Street

    A Seattle area woman walked out of her house on Tuesday February 9th at 6:10 in the morning and saw a line of lights moving across the sky. She snapped a picture of it with her phone and started digging what they were. It turns out they were the 60 Starlink satellites that SpaceX launched on Thursday February 4th.

    Article and picture:
    SpaceX Starlink satellites spotted over western Washington
    https://www.king5.com/article/weather/weather-blog/spacex-starlink-satellites-western-washington/281-e76aff03-280c-49dd-b9e0-209c96535524

  • wayne: The dish is a seriously sophisticated piece of RF equipment. Check out this story, which reports on a teardown by Ken Keiter:

    https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2020/12/teardown-of-dishy-mcflatface-the-spacex-starlink-user-terminal/

    And another analysis here, including x-rays of the circuit board: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6MfM8EFkGg

  • Bob commented: [Editor’s note: Where I live in Tucson Starlink will work for almost the entire city population, as we have few apartment buildings and most homes are on reasonably large lots with very clear views of the sky. And the few apartment buildings can easily install one for all.]

    Now you run into a fundamental limitation of Starlink architecture: it can only support a limited number of ground stations in one “cell”. For Starlink, a “cell” is a roughly hexagonal patch on the ground, a few miles across. At any given moment, every station in a particular cell is sharing access to a single satellite. (Currently just one satellite; in the future perhaps a handful.) Thus the maximum bandwidth of the satellite downlink limits how many customers Starlink can service in a small area. Exactly what that limit is remains to be seen.

    Starlink’s target market is populations not well covered by cell towers, copper or fiber. See Elon Musk’s comments here:

    https://www.lightreading.com/services/musks-starlink-is-not-some-huge-threat-to-telcos/d/d-id/758092

  • Jay

    The gods have smiled on me. I finally received the email and I will be getting my Starlink!

    Thanks Steve for your review!

  • wayne

    Jay–
    received my email announcement from Starlink as well. No active service in my area but if I order now I can expect delivery within 6 months.

Readers: the rules for commenting!

 

No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.

 

However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.

 

Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *