The first private beta of the Starlink internet constellation will start in about three months. A public beta will begin three months after that, according to SpaceX founder Elon Musk. It is unknown if that beta will be available internationally.
Elon Musk says on Twitter that the private beta will start in about three months. This initially happens at high latitudes. For the current Starlink satellites, that means coverage for, for example, Canada, Alaska and the northern United States. Musk is not yet giving many details about the beta. For example, it is not clear whether this only applies to American users or also to international users. Musk responds to a tweet asking about coverage in the US and Canada, but he doesn’t comment further. It is also not clear who is eligible for the beta, how users can sign up, and what it costs to participate. A public beta will follow in six months, three months after the closed beta. SpaceX previously said 400 satellites should be operational for minimum coverage and 800 for average coverage. To date, 422 Starlink satellites have been launched.
To use Starlink Internet, users need a terminal. In January Musk already gave more information about that. The Starlink terminals would be small, flat ‘UFOs on a stick’. The terminals must face the sky to get the optimal coverage from the satellites. The devices have small motors that do this on their own. A prototype of the terminals has not yet been shown. It is not yet clear what the status of the terminals is at the moment. An application to the Federal Communications Commission is still pending.
With his tweets, Musk is referring to a beta for broadband internet that is made possible by the Starlink satellites. SpaceX is building a constellation of thousands of small satellites that should eventually provide the entire world with internet. On Wednesday evening, another 60 of those satellites were launched. That happened aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was a missile that had been used three times before. SpaceX also managed to land the rocket on a floating platform in the ocean. The company achieved a milestone with its launch. It was the 84th time a Falcon 9 rocket was launched. That makes the Falcon 9 the rocket with the most flights of all US operational boosters. Until recently, that was United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V.
Wednesday night’s launch was the seventh Starlink launch. This brings the number of Starlink satellites launched to 422. After the first individual prototypes, the satellites are now being launched in batches of sixty units at a time. These are now easy to see: last week dozens of people reported that they could see ‘a train of satellites’ flying. That turned out to be Starlink satellites launched on March 18. Experts fear that the growing number of satellites could cause more space junk. Astronomers also warn that the constellations could interfere with telescope observations. According to the International Astronomical Union, that has already happened. SpaceX is making tentative efforts to counter that. For example, a Starlink satellite has been launched previously, which has a black anti-reflective coating. The company also wants to bring the first set of 4400 satellites into a lower Earth orbit than initially planned, which has the advantage, among other things, that they are exposed to the sun for a shorter period of time.