The future constellation of SpaceX communication satellites called Starlink, now targets a much lower orbit than originally planned, at least for more than a thousand satellites, revealed the company in an FCC depot . This move is expected to mitigate orbital debris and provide a better signal to the company's terrestrial users.
Starlink plans to install 1,584 satellites – about one-third of the 4,409 units launched by the company – in an orbit just 550 kilometers from the Earth's surface. By comparison, many telecommunication satellites are in double orbits and their geosynchronous orbits are more than 20 times farther (about 36,000 miles).
At this distance, the orbits disintegrate rapidly, fall into the atmosphere and burn down after a handful of years. But SpaceX is not discouraged; in fact, he wrote in his application, the lower orbits offer "several attractive features both in nominal operation and in the unlikely event that something goes wrong".
In the first place, orbital debris problems are naturally mitigated by the fact that anything in this low orbit will fall quickly to Earth instead of cluttering the orbit. Secondly, this should shorten the time needed to send and receive a satellite signal – the time could be as low as 15 milliseconds, the company said. 500 kilometers less means that beam-based communications will be less dispersed.
Satellites will have to do more work to stay at their optimum altitude, because the atmospheric drag will be greater and everyone will be able to see and serve less of the planet. But with thousands of people working together, it should be manageable.
The decision was made with the help of experimental data provided by the "Tintin" test satellites launched by the company at the beginning of the year. "SpaceX has learned to mitigate the disadvantages of operating at a lower altitude and to benefit from the significant and significant benefits discussed above," he writes.
This change may offer competitive advantages when satellite communications are more widely used, but it could also lead to a more intensive maintenance operation, with Starlink's birds constantly disappearing. Fortunately, the third advantage of the lower orbit is that it is easier to reach, but probably not so easy that the company reaches its break-even point.
Starlink is targeting the first real launches of its systems early next year, although this calendar may be a bit too ambitious . But SpaceX can make ambitious efforts.