Space X Launches First Satellites for Major Broadb
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Space X has officially launched the first two satellites to be used as the cornerstone of the company's looming broadband efforts. Thursday morning saw the launch of two of the satellites that will be used in the company's low-orbit Starlink broadband service, which isn't expected to see commercial launch until 2019. The new service, once complete, will utilize a constellation of roughly 4,425 satellites to hopefully provide better connectivity than traditional satellite broadband provides.

The two satellites were launched alongside a Spanish radar satellite via Space X's Falcon 9 rocket. Recent Space X filings states the launch deployed "two experimental non-geostationary orbit satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b."

"These are experimental engineering verification vehicles that will enable the company to assess the satellite bus and related subsystems, as well as the space-based and ground-based phased array technologies," the company told the FCC in the filing.

These two satellites will be the backbone of early tests to determine the viability of the broader Starlink plan. If successful, Space X states that commercial satellite launches will begin in 2019, slowly ramping up to 4,425 satellites in 2024. Ideally, Space X says that the system, if it becomes viable, will provide speeds up to a gigabit per second, with latency somewhere between 25ms and 35ms. It's obviously far too early to speculate how much this service will cost.

That would be a dramatic improvement over existing satellite broadband technology, which has traditionally be plagued by high latency, high costs, slow speeds and usage caps (it's too early to know if Space X will have similar usage restrictions, though given the cost it seems likely). The satellites will orbit at 511km, notably lower than the 35,400km orbit of traditional satellite broadband satellites.

Granted Musk isn't the first person to explore low-orbit satellite as a fixed-line broadband alternative, and due to the complexity of such systems past efforts on this front have tended to amount in lots of sound of fury, but not much else. Others also have the same idea.

Richard Branson, for example, is also building a service called OneWeb, which he says will use 720 low-Earth orbit satellites using the Ka (20/30 GHz) and Ku (11/14 GHz) frequency bands, providing "ubiquitous low-latency broadband connectivity across the United States, including some of the most remote areas in places like Alaska where broadband access has not been possible before," according to an FCC filing.
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