SpaceX adds laser links to Starlink satellites to serve Earth’s polar regions

in great shape / The Starlink logo is mounted on the Earth-style image.

SpaceX has started launching Starlink satellites with laser links that will help provide broadband coverage in the polar regions. As Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX Wrote on twitter on sunday, These satellites “have laser connections between the satellites, so no ground station is needed at the poles.”

Starlink satellite before launch.  The dark circles in the middle are laser links.
in great shape / Starlink satellite before launch. The dark circles in the middle are laser links.

The laser links are among the 10 Starlink satellites launched in just 10 polar orbits. SpaceX launched two weeks after the Federal Communications Commission approved to launch 10 satellites in polar orbits at an altitude of 560 kilometers.

Musk wrote, “All mice to be launched next year will have laser links.” Another tweet tomorrow, Indicating that the laser system will become standard on Starlink satellites in 2022. For now, SpaceX is only on polar satellites including laser links. “Only our polar saints have lasers this year and v0.9,” Musk wrote.

Alaska residents will benefit from polar satellites, SpaceX told the FCC in April 2020 in an application to change the orbit of some of its satellites. The plan is to ensure that all satellites in SpaceX’s system will be provided the same low-latency services to all Americans, to places like Alaska, which are served by satellites in polar orbits, “SpaceX said at the time Was. SpaceX said “satellites could serve both residential and US-government users in non-impossible polar regions”.

Starlink satellites communicate with ground stations, of which about 20 are still deployed in the United States. A SpaceNews article today described how laser links reduce the need for ground stations and provide other benefits:

Inter-satellite links allow satellites to communicate from one satellite to another or to the same orbital plane or adjacent aircraft. Such links allow operators to reduce the number of ground stations, as the ground station no longer needs to be in the same satellite footprint as the user terminals, and coverage in remote areas when the ground station is not available. Expand. They can also reduce latency, as the number of hops between satellites and ground stations decreases.

The 10 satellites were originally authorized by the FCC for altitudes in the 1,100–1,300 km range. FCC approvals allowing SpaceX to be cut in half height would help reduce latency.

With polar orbits, also known as sun-synchronous orbits, satellites “travel past Earth from north to south rather than west to east at the Earth’s poles, according to the European Polar Agency”.

“Space lasers have exciting potential”

In December, during an interview with Ars senior space editor Eric Berger, SpaceX president Gwen Shotwell said that the demonstration of laser communications in space was one of the company’s most significant achievements in 2020.

SpaceX revealed a few months ago that it was testing space lasers to transfer data between satellites. Starlink engineers provided more detail at a Reddit AMA in November; Here is an excerpt from our coverage at that time:

“Laser speeds are faster in vacuum than fibers, so the space laser has the exciting capability of a low latency link,” the Starlink team said in response to a question about space-laser testing on Reddit. “They will also allow us to serve users where satellites cannot see a terrestrial gateway antenna – for example, over the ocean and in areas badly connected by fiber.”

Space Laser won’t play a major role in Starlink any time soon, though. “We did an exciting flight test earlier this year on two Starlink satellites with prototype space lasers that managed to transmit gigabytes of data,” the engineering team wrote. “But reducing the cost of space lasers and producing them very quickly is a really difficult problem that the team is still working on.”

SpaceX wants FCC OK for more polar satellites

In November 2020, SpaceX urged the FCC for a speedy approval “to facilitate the deployment of 348 Starlink satellites at low altitudes in sun-synchronous polar orbits,” the FCC said in its decision to approve 10 satellites. The FCC only approved those 10 because it is evaluating intervention concerns raised by other satellite companies.

“We find that a partial grant of ten satellites will facilitate continued development and testing of high-latitude geographies of SpaceX’s broadband service for immediate development, pending subsequent action to address arguments in the record and complete Will modify as both. Subgroup of polar orbit satellites, “said the FCC order.

Amazon’s Project Kuiper, Wysat, Kepler Communications and Pacific Dataport urged the FCC to reject partial grants of 10 satellites because of increased interference with other non-geostationary satellite systems. But the FCC order stated that SpaceX is committed to “operating these satellites on the basis of non-harmful interference, until the Commission has ruled the amendment in full, in relation to other licensed spectrum users.” . ” A fight is going on between SpaceX and Amazon with Musk Accused Amazon is “trying to hamstring Starlink today for an Amazon satellite system that is several years away from operation.”

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