from the not-worth-it dept
The problem with Space X’s Starlink, as we’ve noted a few times, is several fold. One, the initial deployment of roughly 12,000 low orbit satellites is only going to be able to service around 500,000 to 800,000 total subscribers. In a country with 20-40 million who lack broadband, and another 83 million who live under a broadband monopoly. So despite a lot of rhetoric to the contrary, it’s barely going to put a dent in the problem it claims to solve. At $100 per month (plus $500 hardware charge) it’s also not all that affordable, the other major issue for rural Americans without broadband.
The other major problem for Starlink is the fact the low orbit constellations cause significant light pollution that harms scientific research, something Musk insisted absolutely wouldn’t happen and scientists say can’t be mitigated. For Starlink to have a meaningful impact at scale (and make any money in the process) it needs both the struggling Raptor engine delays to be resolved, it needs supply chain issues to be resolved, and it needs to launch roughly 30,000 second generation Starlink satellites.
But NASA is now warning the FCC that those newer satellites will cause even more problems for scientific research, space flight, and the Hubble telescope:
“The Hubble orbits at 535 km, and about “8 percent of composite images captured by the Hubble telescope are impacted by satellites captured during exposures,” NASA said. “This proposed Starlink license amendment includes 10,000 satellites in or above the orbital range of Hubble, a situation that could more than double the fraction of Hubble images degraded.” NASA also said that “degradation severity will increase.”
NASA’s letter to the FCC dings Starlink for being overly optimistic about this all either not being a problem or somehow working itself out (which has been a bit of a trend with the company). And again, this is all for a service whose reviews have not been particularly great.
U.S. and European regulators alike were so high on Musk’s promise of next-gen connectivity they generally haven’t done much to implement basic guidelines for deployments or the rise of “space junk.” Worse, the Trump FCC decided to dole out nearly a billion in subsidies to Musk (who claims to loathe subsidies) to deploy Starlink broadband to areas that didn’t make any coherent sense (like traffic medians and airport parking lots). Some of those subsidies have been rolled back via scrutiny by the Rosenworcel FCC, but it’s still not clear why the wealthiest man on the planet needs subsidization of any kind.
So far, Starlink only has about 150,000 customers due to supply chain constraints, and many of the customers waiting in line say Starlink customer service is basically nonexistent. And while the service will certainly be a big step up for folks stuck in remote locations who can afford it, the reality is the majority of people just aren’t going to be able to get the service anytime soon. Given the country could instead focus on the uniform deployment of fiber and 5G, it continues to raise the question of whether any of this is actually worth it.