This is how Starlink works – also in Ukraine | Knowledge and the environment | DW

At least since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the strategic benefit of Starlink has been clear: the Ukrainian people again receive information via the satellite network of Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. The Ukrainian military is also successfully using Starlink to coordinate drones, among other things.

What is starlink?

With the original Starlink Civic Program, already disadvantaged areas far from cities must be provided with the Internet. In addition to structurally weak areas, sparsely populated areas or endless stretches of water, one might also consider free information for people in controlled authoritarian regimes.

However, no one certainly thought of a European war zone where the aggressor initially deliberately destroyed power supplies and internet connections at the start of the invasion.

How does Starlink work?

Starlink creates Internet access by transmitting data through light, such as a fiber-optic cable. But this transmission is done via satellite. For this purpose, Texas entrepreneur Elon Musk has been building a satellite network for years, in which individual satellites transmit relevant data to each other.

Musk’s space company SpaceX has launched about 2,300 satellites into low Earth orbit since 2019. The goal is to expand the network to up to 42,000 satellites. SpaceX has already submitted a matching request to the responsible Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States of America.

Since 2019, the space company SpaceX has already launched about 2,300 satellites into low Earth orbit.

In order to be able to use the satellite data, a receiver on the ground is also required, which connects the devices to the nearest satellite like a router. The receiver independently aligns the receiving dish, which is similar to a TV satellite dish, with an available satellite and an Internet connection is established.

What are the benefits of Starlink?

Starlink is not the first provider of satellite Internet, but it has some advantages over its competitors: Satellite Internet is relatively easy to use. The data is flowing continuously and impressively fast. At an altitude of 328 to 614 kilometers, the Starlink satellites orbit the Earth to a much lesser degree than the competition’s moons.

For comparison: satellites from the previous satellite, Huesnet, orbit the Earth at an altitude of 35,000 meters. Accordingly, it takes about ten times more data to transfer than Starlink.

Is Starlink Worth It For Individuals?

So far, Starlink is only available in select regions. The 32 countries include parts of the United States, Canada, central and southern Europe, parts of Latin America, and southern Australia. So, the areas where the satellite internet was originally intended have not been identified.

Perhaps this is also due to the fact that Starlink satellite Internet is quite expensive, with the receiver alone costing about 600 euros in the US. The monthly usage fee is $110.

In this regard, satellite Internet is almost feasible for regions with good or satisfactory network coverage, as in Europe. Unless you travel a lot by boat or motorhome and still want to use a high performance internet connection all the time.

Why is Starlink so controversial?

Fast internet for everyone everywhere looks promising at first. But Starlink satellite internet is very controversial for a number of reasons.

Worry about losing control

Even the provision of Starlink to Ukraine, including the delivery of necessary receiving equipment, was made as a general agreement between Texas businessman Elon Musk and Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation, via the private blogging service Twitter – that is, without public discussion and without any oversight by Parliaments.

Elon Musk activates Starlink in Ukraine

Will Elon Musk eventually sell his Starlink project to the highest bidder?

And what happens if a Starlink private project is sold to the highest bidder after its completion and ends up in the wrong hands? When will future totalitarian states or strategic competitors gain access to this global network?

crowd in orbit

In addition, Elon Musk “scatters” our orbit with his own moons. The first Sputnik was launched into space in 1957, followed by another 8,500 by 2019. The Starlink network is said to have 42,000 satellites – so it’s very crowded in orbit quickly. This puts other satellites at risk and also hinders astronomical observations from Earth.

Already, the Starlink satellites are blamed for most of the impending errors with other satellites. Once a satellite automatically changes its course to avoid a potential collision, this can lead to a chain reaction because other satellites then react to their changing trajectory.

The relatively short life of the Starlink satellites, which give up stealth after about five years, is also a problem. Even if they then burn up to a large extent when they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, new satellites must be launched into space all the time in order to avoid gaps in the network.

There are hardly any opportunities for competitors

SpaceX is currently exploiting its dominant position in the market on a large scale in order to keep competition at bay in the future: due to the density of the satellite, there is hardly any space left for other competitors, especially in near-Earth orbits. If so, they will have to switch to distant and unattractive heights.

This is very unattractive for a network of satellites interconnected similar to the global supply of fast Internet, in other words: Starlink will not have much competition to fear in the future.

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