SpaceX asked to launch 7,518 satellites to deliver fast internet access to the whole planet

SpaceX says that it could offer gigabit speeds to customers anywhere on the planet. [Photo: Courtesy]
SpaceX has been given permission by the US Federal Communications Commission to launch 7,518 more satellites. The company had already been given permission to launch 4,409.

This enormous number of satellites is to enable the company's Starlink communications system which promises to offer broadband across the surface of the planet, including to places that struggle with current infrastructure.

SpaceX says that it could offer gigabit speeds to customers anywhere on the planet. The total speed of the final constellation would be as much as 32 terabytes per second.

There's nothing new about using satellites for internet access, but the problem traditionally has been that these services don't offer a way to upload data quickly.

Their distance from Earth also means that the time it takes a signal to travel from you to the satellite and then to its destination is longer than normal earthbound communications.

This is measured in milliseconds and for normal broadband you might see delays of 20ms while satellites have 550ms of delay. SpaceX says it can deliver 25-30ms of latency in its network.

Those issues mean satellite broadband is only useful for niche applications or when there is no other option.

However, SpaceX's Starlink satellites are placed in a much lower orbit, around 340km high, that's inside the orbit of the International Space Station, for reference.

These communications satellites will last only a few years before burning up but they will offer improved communications with Earth. Because these satellites aren't in a geosynchronous orbit far more of them are needed.

The Starlink project could, if successful, be a big earner for SpaceX. Demand for internet access is huge and always growing and there are lots of places on Earth where fixed line broadband isn't practical.

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