A new generation of Starlink’s Internet satellites will orbit at low altitudes and eventually reenter Earth’s atmosphere, limiting the amount of clutter in orbit
February 28, 2023
A rocket carrying 21 new-generation Starlink satellites successfully launched into orbit yesterday at 6:13 p.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The launch on the back of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket marked two milestones for the satellite internet service: it was the first release of Starlink’s second generation of satellites, and it also meant that Starlink has now launched more than 4000 satellites.
Starlink is a division of SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk that delivers high-speed internet connections over the air to bring broadband to homes and businesses, as opposed to traditional internet connections that use underwater pipelines and underground fiber optic cables.
Its services have become particularly important for Ukraine, whose traditional Internet connections have been disrupted by Russia. The US Federal Communications Commission approved Starlink to launch up to 7500 satellites in December 2022.
The V2 mini satellites, which are smaller than Starlink’s original satellites, have four times the capacity to offer users fast internet, according to their manufacturer. The improvement in internet capacity is due to a more efficient arrangement of antennas and the use of radio frequencies between 71 and 86 gigahertz – the so-called E-band – instead of other frequencies, according to SpaceX. The company has said the new satellites “represent a step forward in Starlink capability.”
The newer satellites will orbit the Earth at an altitude of less than 600 kilometers, meaning they will eventually disintegrate and reenter the planet’s atmosphere, limiting the amount of debris orbiting the Earth. Astronomers have previously raised concerns about the number of satellites wiping out the ability to see stars in our night sky.
The lower orbit also has other advantages over geostationary satellites, which have been the main provider of satellite internet connections, says Doug Madory of Kentik, an internet monitoring company. Geostationary satellites orbit the earth at higher altitudes – about 35,800 kilometers – which increases the latency, or the time it takes for information to be sent and received on the internet. Low-orbit satellites like Starlink’s offer lower latency by using more satellites closer to the Earth’s surface, Madory says.
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