After several delays, SpaceX has finally launched its 12th Starlink Mission, which brings its internet-beaming satellite constellation to just under the 800 it needs to deliver moderate coverage in North America.
With this latest launch at Tuesday, 7:29 am EDT from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, SpaceX has now launched 775 Linux-powered Starlink satellites. But, via CBS News, only 728 Starlink satellites remain in orbit, according to astronomer Jonathan McDowell’s latest Space Report.
As noted by Space.com, before Tuesday’s successful Starlink launch, SpaceX had scrubbed four attempted launches due to weather and other issues. SpaceX integration and test engineer Siva Bharadvaj said Tuesday was “a happy end to Scrub-tober”.
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More importantly for broadband-starved potential customers in the US, this latest batch of 60 Starlink satellites clears the way for a public beta in northern US and possibly southern Canada.
“Once these satellites reach their target position, we will be able to roll out a fairly wide public beta in northern US and hopefully southern Canada. Other countries to follow as soon as we receive regulatory approval,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Starlink has been running a private beta since July in parts of northern US and while it has had coverage of southern Canada, services there are pending regulatory approval. However, the private beta was largely limited to SpaceX employees, according to TechCrunch.
One group Musk said SpaceX has prioritized is emergency services. Last week, the Washington state military’s emergency-management unit revealed it had been using seven Starlink end-user terminals for connectivity since early August in fire-ravaged parts of the state.
In an update after Tuesday’s launch, SpaceX said the way Washington’s first responders deployed Starlink in Malden, just south of Spokane, Washington, is “representative of how Starlink works best – in remote or rural areas where internet connectivity is unavailable”.
The public beta means more would-be Starlink customers, who are looking to ditch sub-par broadband connections, traditional satellite services, and mobile broadband substitutes, will have a chance to test SpaceX’s satellite broadband service.
Starlink satellites orbit Earth at an altitude of about 500km, or 311 miles, far closer to Earth than traditional conventional satellite broadband services.
Richard Hall, the emergency telecommunications leader of the Washington State Military Department’s IT division, vouched for Starlink’s broadband throughput, low latency, and ease of setting up the ‘UFO on a stick’ end-user terminals.
SpaceX in August applied to the Federal Communications Commission to boost the number of end-user terminals it’s permitted to deploy from one million to five million, after 700,000 US residents signed up to be updated about the service’s availability.
SpaceX recently presented the FCC Starlink internet performance tests showing it was capable of download speeds of between 102Mbps to 103Mbps, upload speeds of 40.5Mbps to not quite 42Mbps, and a latency of 18 milliseconds to 19 milliseconds.
However, SpaceX still has some way to go in ramping up production of the end-user terminals. Currently, it has the capacity to produce “thousands of consumer user terminals per month”.