Elon Musk’s visionary Starlink project is a constellation of 12,000 satellites that will be launched into orbit to provide high-speed internet connection in every corner of the globe.
Not only will this mission allow Musk to expand his reign into a new field- internet services- it would even further his space exploration ambitions as they can use the revenue earned by providing internet to fund SpaceX’s missions to Mars. So far, the company has obtained investor funding for the program and was able to launch 480 satellites into low-Earth orbit (or LEO).
Recently, we were given more information about the project in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) hosted by SpaceX engineers. They revealed that the satellites are already generating a large quantity of data- 5 trillion bytes of data, to be specific- and they are receiving updates every week.
The head of the software development team for Starlink, Matt Monson, said that the company relies on the Linux operating system. “Each launch of 60 satellites contains more than 4,000 Linux computers,” he said, “The constellation has more than 30,000 Linux nodes (and more than 6,000 microcontrollers) in space right now. And because we share a lot of our Linux platform infrastructure with Falcon and Dragon, they get the benefit of our more than 180 vehicle-years of on-orbit test time.”
With so many Linux operating systems in space, it’s not hard to see how the company is able to generate so much data.
Monson further went on to comment on the way they addressed any problems that came up, saying that there were many occasions when they faced inconceivable failures. Referring to the satellite, he said that it “was able to keep itself safe long enough for us to debug it, figure out a fix or a workaround, and push up a software update.” In the same Reddit thread, he also shared that SpaceX is sending beams of software updates to the satellites around once every week. “Smaller test deployments” are also happening.
As a response to a question, he wrote, “Doing the detection of problems onboard is one of the best ways to reduce how much telemetry we need to send and store (only send it when it’s interesting). The alerting system we use for this is shared between Starlink and Dragon.”
Similar to how the internet was developed in its beginning stages, Starlink’s network is being tested on military platforms by the US Air Force. The satellite terminals are attached to the cockpit of the aircraft, with the Air Force having access to it for the next three years before switching to a paid service.
The service will be accessible to the public by late 2020, with the northern US and Canada being the first recipients. To access the internet, you will have to use a terminal that looks like “UFO on a stick” (the words of company officials). SpaceX has received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to provide around 1 million of these terminals.