By James Steindler
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… Elon Musk? If you look at the sky at night, there’s a chance you’ll see a very distinct set of satellites orbiting the Earth. If you happen to have already seen them, it may light up your mind and hopefully this article can provide some clarity.
Those exceptionally bright satellites are part of SpaceX’s satellite infrastructure designed to connect customers around the world to the Internet. SpaceX is the parent company of Starlink, the internet provider. High-profile tech tycoon Elon Musk is the founder and CEO of SpaceX.
There are currently about 1,700 SpaceX satellites in orbit, and more are launched into space on a regular basis. In fact, the launch of a SpaceX rocket with dozens of satellites is scheduled for December 3 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Starlink is not the first internet provider to operate via satellite. Other companies, such as HughesNet and Viasat, have gone ahead, but have launched far fewer satellites. Amazon isn’t far behind either. The SpaceX satellites also appear brighter because they orbit significantly closer to Earth’s surface than most.
According to the website, “Starlink is ideally suited to areas where connectivity was unreliable or completely unavailable.” Here in rural Colorado, and more specifically in places like the Crystal Valley, there are a number of people who have already signed up for Starlink. While some of those people have received their starter kits, many have not yet.
Crystal Valley resident Jessica Grentner said she has paid the $99 application fee and has been on a waiting list since February. “I had read in Facebook groups that some people had gotten their accounts over the summer and was hopeful,” Grentner told The Sopris Sun. On November 23, she received a long-awaited correspondence from Starlink. However, it was only to inform Grentner to keep waiting. In the Nov. 23 email, the company claimed, “Silicon shortages over the past six months have slowed down our projected production rate and impacted our ability to fulfill many Starlink orders this year.”
Another native of Crystal Valley, Hawkins Siemon, who has lived in Marble full-time for 17 years, managed to get Starlink connectivity. Siemon explains that connectivity has been “very consistent and improved, even from the time we got the service in April.”
The installation process requires the customer to be self-sufficient. The customer receives a kit that he is expected to install himself. “The installation process is very simple,” Siemon assured. “It comes with its own router and modem. So all you have to do is connect the wire from the dish to the modem and connect the router and modem to a power source.” A customer is also tasked with setting up a dish in their home to communicate with the satellites, which requires a clear view of the sky.
In general, Siemon is satisfied. “This is for truly limitless data at speeds much faster than anything else available in remote areas,” said Siemon. “We’ve seen download speeds of up to 350 MBPS [megabits per second] and we average 100 MPBS download speeds consistently. By comparison, if you have other satellite internet services, you can get closer to 20 MPBS download speeds on average.”
Starlink does not communicate by telephone and certainly not in person. For many, this detracts from the personal business-customer relationship that many are accustomed to.
When The Sopris Sun reached out to SpaceX for an interview, it took a few weeks for the company to reply with a general response: “Thank you for your interest in Starlink! Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone available to connect as our team focuses on rolling out the Starlink service around the world…” The email was signed, “Sincerely, SpaceX Communications.”