Internet has emerged as one of the basic human needs of the 21st But, even today more than 3 billion people don’t have a reliable internet connection. The concept of Space-based internet is aimed at changing this scenario.
Space X Plan
- The Starlink Network of SpaceX eventually plans to install 42,000 satellites to ensure non-stop internet services throughout the earth at a cost-effective rate. These satellites will be connected with their neighboring satellites using lasers.
China’s “Guowang” (GW) constellation has also been announced which is meant to meet satellite-based internet services.
- It will also be a LEO based system with satellites operating at different heights (500-1145 km), inclinations (30-85 degrees) and frequency bands.
Other such projects: Several other companies including Amazon, OneWeb and O3B have also planned large constellation of satellites in LEO and MEO – but these projects are very small compared to Starlink.
Comparing Geostationary vs LEO satellites for providing internet services [Advantages of LEO – Low latency-> allows real time communication; Disadvantage -> need more satellites for coverage as they cover small part of earth]
- The space-based internet services can provide reliable and uninterrupted internet services universally to everyone on earth. Currently, around 4 billion population on earth either have no internet service or a very uninterrupted one. This is because the mechanisms like fiber optics or mobile wireless communication require infrastructure which can’t be taken everywhere due to various geographical constraints.
- Services during emergency: For e.g. During Russia Ukraine war in 2022, the Starlink played an important role in strengthening the Ukrainian military might after the European SATCOM system was cyber attacked.
- Services such as autonomous cars will be made possible and things like IOT can be integrated in virtually every household.
- Universal Internet access will also ensure better e-governance and thus enhance the ease of living for common citizens.
The ambitious space-based internet services (especially Starlink of SpaceX and Guowang of China come along with a number of downsides:
- Increased Space debris
- The SpaceX initiative thus will also increase the chances of collision of satellites. In fact, on Sep 2, 2019, only, ESA had to perform, for the first time ever, a ‘collision avoidance maneuver to protect one of its live satellites from colliding with a mega constellation.
- Difficulty in Space Observation -> Light Pollution
- Increased crowding in LEO and signal interference in space may emerge as another problem.
- Establishing an international convention that regulates the presence of satellites in LEO is another possible way in making LEO less congested.
- All stakeholders need to jointly commit to reducing and mitigating the dangers posed by debris.
- India needs to plan for satellite-based internet system of its own.
- Starlink is a very ambitious project and can solve a number of internet accessibility problems. SpaceX has already said that it is looking into reducing the challenges/limitations to as less as possible and it should always give these challenges a very high priority.
- What is Space-based internet? What are its advantages over traditional fiber optics cables? Discuss how the SpaceX plans to provide affordable and non-stop internet throughout the earth. [15 marks, 250 words]