Elon Musk’s Starlink internet service brings high-speed internet to people in different places around the world. The tech billionaire doesn’t leave it at that, but shoots more satellites into space. What are Musk’s plans?

Starlink, the satellite internet service of Elon Musk’s space company SpaceX should have been known to many people since the war in Ukraine at the latest. Because the company supplies the country with its high-performance Internet, which maintains contact with the outside world and allows the Ukrainian armed forces, for example, to continue to communicate with each other.

However, Starlink continues to launch satellites into space. These will be launched into orbit at a low altitude in order to establish the highest possible connection speed between the satellites and the ground. It is estimated that there have been around 3,000 in space since 2018. It could end up being 10,000 or 12,000, the editor of technology website Pocket Lint, Chris Hall, told the BBC. “The use of satellites solves the problem of bringing Internet connections to remote locations in deserts and mountains.” It’s about the need to build massive amounts of infrastructure, like cables and towers, to reach those areas, Hall said.

Elon Musk wants to expand global access to Starlink Internet

In order to provide people in other, remote places in the world with high-performance Internet, significantly more satellites are required. In the next year, the company wants to expand its Internet service in Africa, South America and Asia. There is still a lack of fast internet here. In contrast, in EU countries and the USA, 90 percent of people already have access to high-speed internet. According to Starlink, it has 400,000 subscribers – both private households and companies – in 36 countries. These are mainly in North America, Europe and Australasia.

Remote regions couldn’t afford the cost of Starlink Internet ($99 per month plus $549 connection fees including key and router), Hall suspects. At the same time, he believes: “It could play an important role in connecting schools and hospitals in remote areas.” In Ukraine, satellite internet service keeps important things running, like public services and even the government. “The Russians haven’t figured out a way to disable it yet,” Hall said. Marina Miron, defense researcher at Kings College London, told the BBC: “The signals cannot be jammed like ordinary radio signals can and it only takes 15 minutes to set up the equipment.”

Brazil is now also interested in the Starlink service. Elon Musk met with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in May to discuss protecting the Amazon. Musk wants to connect this to the Internet via satellites. He tweeted, “I am delighted to be in Brazil to support the launch of Starlink for 19,000 offline schools in rural areas and environmental monitoring of the Amazon.”

The online retailer Amazon, for example, is planning a satellite network with high-speed Internet. He wants to create the most powerful system for Internet delivery from low orbits.

Increase in Internet satellites with problems

However, experts are certain that the increase in the number of satellites in space will also increasingly lead to problems. Sa’id Mosteshar, from the University of London’s Institute for Space Policy and Law, told the BBC: ‘Satellites could collide with other ships and create debris which in turn could do much more damage at high flight speeds.’ dr Lucinda King, manager of space projects at the University of Portsmouth, warned: “If there are too many fragments, low-Earth orbit could become unusable in the future.” She added, “And we might not be able to go from low Earth orbit to higher orbits where our navigation and telecommunications satellites are located.”

In addition, the satellites interfere with the work of astronomers. Because they can cause streaks on telescope images and prevent the view of stars and planets.

Sources: BBC, with material from dpa