SpaceX’s Starlink project had a record year in 2020. The nascent satellite-based internet project not only deployed more than 800 satellites (through 14 missions) in low Earth orbit, but also began beta service in most of the U.S. and parts of Canada.
The Starlink team has big plans for 2021 to expand the constellation to beam internet to more places on Earth. So, prepare to see strings of Starlink satellites fly by above Europe, the British islands and even the North Pole.
According to Business Insider, SpaceX revealed Monday that Starlink service had been issued an operating license in the U.K. last November. And local users who signed up for its beta test have already received installation kits.
The U.K. beta service is priced at 20 percent higher than the American version. Starter kits cost £439 ($600) each, and users will pay an additional £84 ($120) for a monthly subscription. In an email to subscribers dated October 26, SpaceX said users participating in the beta test could expect download speeds of 50 to 150 Mbps. Although not as fast as what some U.S. beta users are getting, it’s a major improvement for people in rural areas who barely had internet access.
“Within the hour we ran a Zoom quiz with grandchildren—it was wonderful,” Philip Hall, a Starlink beta tester who lives in rural Devon, southwest England, told Business Insider. Before Starlink, he had download speeds of only 0.5 Mbps with service provided by local carrier BT Group. Now he has 85 Mbps.
Other countries, including Greece, Germany and Australia, have also authorized Starlink operation, with discussions underway in France, New Zealand, India, Japan and South Africa, according to a service status roundup tracked by Reddit users.
In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission last week granted SpaceX the permission to launch 10 Starlink satellites into a polar orbital plane at an altitude of 560 kilometers. Those satellites will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than January 14 as part of a smallsat rideshare mission called Transporter-1.
SpaceX had been seeking the FCC’s permission to launch Starlink satellites above the Arctic for weeks. In a November filing, SpaceX argued that adding satellites into polar orbits would allow it to launch service in Alaska, which is not yet covered in the U.S. beta service.
The application had met with opposition from other satellite operators. Viasat, for example, raised concerns about the potential orbital debris hazards posed by Starlink satellites in an FCC filing. The agency eventually dismissed the complaint, ruling in an order that “the addition of these ten satellites is unlikely to have any significant incremental effect on the operations of other satellites in the relevant orbital altitudes.”
SpaceX has vowed to achieve global Starlink coverage by the end of 2021. Seven deployment missions have already been planned through March. Please check back for launch dates and other mission details.