SpaceX targets backhaul business with 60 new satellites

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX is now the biggest commercial operator of telecoms satellites, following this week’s successful launch of 60 new members of its Starlink fleet.

When he announced the project five years ago, Musk said the project was designed to carry up to 50% of backhaul traffic in high-density cities and up to 10% of local traffic.

The launch brings the Musk company’s total to around 172 operational satellites – some have had technical faults. SpaceX plans 1,440 by the end of this year, and eventually a total of 42,000.

All will orbit at latency-friendly heights above the Earth’s surface, making them suitable for high-speed internet services – initially 550km, but also 1,150km and 340km with later launches. The satellites will operate at 12-18GHz and 26.5-40GHz.

The company has suggested the overall cost will be $10 billion. SpaceX is able to keep costs down because it has a successful series of launches for commercial and government clients – and these will often have spare capacity to include Starlink satellites.

SpaceX has provided no details of its intended commercial offer, but says simply that “Starlink will provide fast, reliable internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.” Reports suggest that first services will be available later in 2020.