Part 3/3 – Four tech leaps changing satellite broadband economics

Starlink video from IG.

Mega constellations, facilitated by laser, rocket, and antenna innovations will change the economics of satellite-provided broadband.

  1. Inter-Satellite Link (ISL). This allows satellites in a constellation to link to one another using lasers. Since 2001 governments (NASA, ESA, Japan, Germany), and companies (Google, Facebook) have been testing space communications. The most recent batch of Starlink has ISL capability, and all future large constellations are expected to add it also. ISL reduces backhaul costs, improves satellite control, and reduces network latency. In simple terms, ISL allows traffic to beam to satellites nearer data centers containing netflix, youtube, etc.
  2. Reusable Rockets. The Atlas V costs $165M per launch. Falcon 9 costs $62M new and $30M if reused. So far, SpaceX delivers 60 rockets per Falcon 9 launch.
  3. Phased array antenna. The cost for a motorized ground dish to follow satellites is prohibitively expensive for residential broadband. A phased-array antenna uses an array of internal antennas elements. In the case of Starlink, these antennas cost $2500 and are subsidized and recouped by an initial $500 antenna price and $99 per month unlimited usage fee.
  4. Miniaturization and mega-constellations. Modern LEO satellites are roughly the size of a table and weigh ~260 kg. Failed units burn up as they reenter Earth’s atmosphere leaving no orbital debris or satellite parts hitting the ground. Starlink satellite service life is 5 years, after which time they run out of propellant and surfer radiation damage. This protects Earth from Kessler syndrome––a phenomenon when failed equipment in orbit around Earth reaches a point where it creates more and more space debris. Miniaturization reduces cost and launch complexity, enabling mega constellations, but short satellite service life will place new economic pressure on constellations. Mega LEO constellations are an absolute prerequisite for LEO-powered internet broadband.

That was my 3-part series. If I pick this back up again I might cover the interesting topic of spectrum rights.

Published by Neal Mueller