Elon Musk’s Starlink project, which aims to provide global broadband connectivity via a constellation of satellites, has shipped 100,000 terminals to customers.
It’s a jaw-dropping pace for the capital-intensive service, which began satellite launches in November 2019 and opened its $99/month beta program for select customers around a year later. Since that period, SpaceX has launched more than 1,700 satellites to date and -- in addition to the 100,000 shipped terminals -- has received over half a million additional orders for the service.
In some ways, it’s no surprise that SpaceX has managed to accelerate its Starlink service so quickly, as the company launches the satellites itself on the Falcon 9 rocket. Such vertical integration is a key strategy of the space company, now the highest-valued in the world.
Many of Starlink’s beta customers live in remote or rural areas, where access to conventional broadband is limited or nonexistent. Customers pay a $499 upfront cost for the service, which covers a starter kit to get them off the ground: a user terminal (which SpaceX lovingly refers to as "Dishy McFlatface"), Wi-Fi router, power supply, cables and a mounting tripod.
But while Starlink's rapid growth reflects an aggressive strategy, it's just the beginning for the project, if SpaceX has anything to say about it. The company ultimately wants to launch around 30,000 Starlink satellites into orbit, and expand its user pool to millions of customers. In an application for the next generation Starlink system, submitted to the Federal Communication Commission on August 18, SpaceX proposed two separate configurations for the constellation, one of which would use its next-gen Starship heavy-lift rocket.
That constellation would top out at 29,988 satellites in total; SpaceX also proposed an alternate configuration using its Falcon 9 rocket. But the obvious advantage of Starship is its massive-size payload capacity.
“SpaceX has found ways to leverage the advanced capabilities of its new launch vehicle, Starship, that has increased capability to deliver more mass to orbit quickly and efficiently and, combined with reuse capability of the upper stage, launch more often,” the company said in the amended application.