These images taken by a SpaceX fan living in Merrillan, Wisconsin, show SpaceX’s prototypes for ground stations and user terminals for its Starlink project.
Here’s a background to those who are unfamiliar with the project: Starlink is a SpaceX mission that aims to provide high-speed broadband in every corner of the globe. This is especially beneficial to those living in inaccessible areas where it’s hard to establish an internet connection.
So far, half a billion dollars in funding were raised and 542 satellites were launched. And by 2020, the company predicts that the northern USA and Canada can start using Starlink’s internet service. To keep track of the developments on the programs, you can even sign up for updates.
But what’s with the ‘UFOs on a stick’? Well, that is the endearing term given by the company to the terminals that users will have to install to access the service. SpaceX has described these terminals in a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filing for Starlink and fans have since wondered what it would look like. Now, they can see it for real.
The photos were posted on Reddit by darkpenguin22 and are the only ones available of the terminals. The company posted a number of images and videos of the satellites, but none of the on-ground equipment that it will be using. Although they are vaguely visible in some images of SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility, these are the ones that are the clearest.
The photos seem to have been taken from a distance using a high-power telephoto lens. Two types of antennas are shown, white ones with a five-foot diameter, meant to protect the electronics of the ground station, and the much smaller user terminals.
The ground station will relay internet to the terminals, using which users can connect their devices to the internet. Another unique feature of these terminals is that they self-adjust to “an optimal angle to view the sky,” according to Musk. Upon zooming into the image, you can see the labels which say that they are SpaceX property and prototypes.
“I just happen to live nearby so going there to take some pictures myself was an easy way to contribute to the community,” said darkpenguin22, who wanted to be anonymous. “I’m a long time SpaceX and Tesla fan and work in IT as a sysadmin, so have been closely following Starlink developments for both personal and professional/business purposes.”
They also added, “Could potentially become a very competitive alternative for corporate site-to-site links, at least in less population dense parts of the country/world. I also see it as key to enabling efficient remote working for those of us who prefer a more rural lifestyle.”
In the first phase of Starlink development, SpaceX expects to launch 1600 satellites to an altitude of 340 miles above the Earth. It aims to achieve this by sending about 60 satellites every fortnight. Of the 542 satellites it has so far launched, 480 are operational and the remaining experimental.
These satellites will be 64 times closer to the Earth than the typical internet satellites, so they could be capable of providing internet that has zero latency. If the company can provide evidence of this to the FCC, it may even manage to obtain billions of dollars of government subsidies. This would allow the company to provide its service at a low cost, at least initially, so that it builds a customer base.
According to President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, once SpaceX launches more than 800 satellites, which it is likely to achieve by this fall, it would “roll out service in a more public way.”