Yesterday’s launch of another 60 Starlink satellites raised questions over when initial service through the constellation will go live. Last we’d heard, SpaceX planned for a basic service to kick off sometime this year followed by expansions as more satellites were launched. In a tweet today, Elon Musk clarified the plans, revealing that a private beta will take place initially, among other things.
SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are small and compact, relatively speaking; they can beam Internet back down to Earth, providing service in places that don’t currently have broadband connectivity, as well as other places where the local Internet provider is too slow or too expensive. Yesterday’s launch delivered another 60 satellites into orbit, bringing the total to 420.
The company previously said that it would take around 400 satellites to initiate a basic service, though SpaceX plans to eventually deliver 12,000 units (or more) into space. The successful launch raised questions over whether there are now enough satellites in orbit to kick off the Starlink service and, if so, when that will take place.
In responding to a tweet following the launch, Musk revealed that a private beta is planned to start around late summer, followed by a private beta that will be twice as long. In total, these betas will span the rest of the year. Musk says the company will start with high latitudes.
The Starlink project hasn’t been without controversy. Some critics have expressed concerns about the light pollution these low-Earth orbit satellites introduce into the night sky; they can show up as dots or streaks of light in images and may, among other things, make things harder for astronomers. Musk recently responded to a tweet about the matter, saying that the company is working on reducing the visibility of the satellites.