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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:
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.
Open box with instructions.
Starlink dish as shipped.
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)
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.
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, 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.