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Home » SpaceX’s Orbital Laser Network: The ‘Light Speed’ Future of Starlink

SpaceX’s Orbital Laser Network: The ‘Light Speed’ Future of Starlink


For all the fanfare around SpaceX’s Starlink internet beaming satellite constellation, the system’s true game-changing potential may still be flying under the radar. Literally. That’s because Starlink is in the process of activating a vast orbital laser mesh that could supercharge the network’s already impressive performance.

SpaceX will soon commercialize its Starlink satellite laser links by offering them to other satellite providers. This capability puts lasers on board satellites, giving them the ability to communicate and share data. President and COO ⁦Gwynne Shotwell on Starlink IPO: “We are not focused on an IPO for Starlink right now; The company is instead aiming at improving the product, including transmission speeds.”

During a recent presentation, SpaceX engineer Travis Brashears pulled back the curtain on Starlink’s blazing fast laser link capabilities already quietly operating amongst thousands of satellites. The numbers are staggering – over 42 petabytes of data per day transmitted across 9,000 individual laser links simultaneously serving customers in just a two-hour window.

SpaceX has achieved a major milestone in providing cell service from space. On January 8th, successfully sent and received its first text messages using T-Mobile’s network spectrum through new Starlink satellites with Direct to Cell capabilities.

Launches Innovative Direct to Cell Starlink Satellites

Slashing Latency With Light Speed Space Lasers

So what’s the big deal with Space lasers? Unlike traditional radio communications used for the satellite-to-ground Starlink data links, these cutting-edge laser systems allow satellites to rapidly share data between each other at stupendous speeds approaching the literal speed of light.

As Elon Musk himself pointed out, lasers’ gigantic bandwidth allows Starlink satellites to bypass sending data the long way through fiber optic cables run along the Earth’s surface. Instead, they beam it through the vacuum of space where light travels around 40% faster.

It’s this capability that could finally deliver on the long-promised “low-latency” aspect of Starlink’s “low-Earth orbit” satellite design. By meshing satellites together with laser links into an orbital data transit network, laggy longRoutesS to far-off ground stations get bypassed entirely.

Need more proof of the laser link’s transformative potential? Consider that Starlink has already achieved a staggering 99% laser “link uptime” despite the enormous technical hurdles.

Each day, the satellites perform over 266,000 “laser link acquisitions” to rapidly establish connections. In some cases, links can sustain blistering 200Gbps speeds for weeks at a time! During testing, SpaceX even managed to bridge two satellites a staggering 3,355 miles apart with a connection stretching down to just 30km above Earth.

Brashears showed off lastThe amount of intricate laser routing happening behind the scenes, too. For example, a Starlink dish in Antarctica can dynamically hop between seven different laser-connected satellite paths to maintain reliable service no matter what.

Most impressively, all of these laser feats are being achieved with relatively affordable off-the-shelf parts as SpaceX scales up a new “Gen 4” laser link design capable of producing 200 units per week.

With such a head start in orbital laser links, it’s no wonder SpaceX has set its sights on commercializing the technology. According to Gwynne Shotwell, the plan is to soon start selling Starlink’s satellite laser capabilities to other providers – outfitting their satellites with the ability to communicate seamlessly.

For SpaceX, it’s the first step towards monetizing its burgeoning space-based communications network beyond just consumer internet. But for the rest of the satellite industry, it could represent a watershed moment – ushering in an era of frictionless data flowing at light speed across a lattice of laser links encircling the globe.

Between the performance leaps and new revenue streams, SpaceX’s orbital laser gambit may prove one of the most pivotal breakthroughs in the development of Starlink yet. The future is looking pretty bright – pun absolutely intended.

Related: SpaceX Releases Rare Look Inside Company Meeting as Elon Musk Previews Major 2024 Milestones