Starlink, the internet service provider that is a major part of SpaceX’s operations, is inching ever closer to its full launch. However, the company is also making plans to keep its services as functional and seamless as possible.
Central to Starlink’s operations is the launch of a new satellite, which the company finally rolled out this month.
Better Performance, More Accessories
After teasing it for a while, Starlink finally released a new rectangular satellite dish that promises faster and easier connections to the company’s ever-growing constellation of satellites. The dish is a lighter and thinner option compared to the famous circular dish that Starlink’s beta users have been using for the past 12 months.
However, besides the new shape and look, the satellite appears to work just like the old one - dubbed affectionately as "Dishy McFlatface" by Starlink. Users will be able to put the dish on their roofs or anywhere that is high enough to get a clear view of the sky to connect.
The initial satellite dish design featured a circular structure that had a width of 23 inches. However, the new version comes with just 12 inches in width, as well as a 19-inch length profile. The dish also weighs just 9.2 pounds, which is almost a 550 percent reduction from the initial dish. With a smaller shape and form, the new dish could offer more options to users as they look to install it.
Besides structural differences, the rectangular dish also comes with more accessories - including a long pole that users can mount into the ground and attach their dishes to. If you’re tired of mounting your dish atop your roof, the pole will definitely come in handy.
The new satellite dish is just the latest in developments that Starlink is making. The company spent its formative years launching satellites into the lower Earth orbit, and it currently has a constellation that consists of over a thousand satellites.
Then, in late 2020, SpaceX launched the Starlink beta, offering customers access to its internet service for just $99 monthly. The beta will also come with a $499 one-time fee, which users would need to pay for the hardware kit (including the dish, WiFi router, and power supply).
New Dish is Cheaper to Produce
SpaceX had applied to the smaller dish with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) months back, and it recently only got approval for it. While the company believes that the new dish will be quicker and more convenient for users, it appears to have a financial incentive to switch as well.
With its smaller build, the new dish is expected to be much less expensive to produce. The new dish notably compares to a similar dish being used by Project Kuiper - the satellite internet initiative being developed by e-commerce giant Amazon.
When it unveiled the design for its dishes, Amazon explained that it had chosen this new design for cost implications. The company had overlaid some of the critical structures over one another, ensuring that they would be able to contribute to the smaller design and reduce production costs.
Rajeev Badyal, Kuiper’s Vice President of Technology, explained in a blog post that Amazon is looking to offer quality internet to unserved and underserved communities. Hence, the cost is an important factor.
“This simple fact inspired one of our key tenets for Kuiper: to invent a light, compact phased array antenna that would allow us to produce an affordable customer terminal. It’s incredible to see such a small form factor delivering this type of speed and performance,” he said in part.
In August, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said that the company had spent up to $3,000 to produce the original dish. Even though they managed to get production costs to $1,300 per dish, Shotwell explained that they’re still running at a considerable loss as they sell.
Shotwell has added that SpaceX would release a new terminal this year, which will cost about half of the current user terminals. Still, the new hardware kit sells for the same price of $499, and SpaceX hasn’t yet pointed out whether it will be selling the terminal for lower prices.
Starlink currently claims that the new dish is available for new orders in the United States. However, customers might have to wait a while before their orders get fulfilled. Ever since it began pre-order processing in February, Starlink has seen a massive influx of customers. As of June, SpaceX chief Elon Musk claimed that Starlink had gotten almost 70,000 active users, with a prediction of 500,000 by the middle of 2022.
At the same time, some users have also complained that changes in their addresses via Starlink’s map tool had affected the speed of their order shipments. With silicon shortages also hampering the company’s production capacity, it would be interesting to see how well SpaceX can effectively meet the growing demand.