SpaceX Starlink broadband pathfinder sats launched
[Picture above - Tintin A & B - Source: screen capture video from SpaceX PAZ coverage]
SpaceX put a pair of pathfinder satellites into orbit today, February 23, to support its broader effort for an initial 4,400+ constellation of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites to provide broadband services around the globe.
Tintin A and Tintin B, formerly Microsat-2a and 2b, were a secondary payload on board the launch of the Spanish PAZ radar satellite. The launch took place from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:17 a.m. EST.
The two satellites will be used to test the spacecraft bus and network technologies, including a Ku-band phased array antenna for ground communication and in-orbit optical links for passing data between satellites. Each satellite is a box shape 1.1 meters x 0.7 meters x 0.7 meters, with a pair of 2 meter x 8 meter fold-out solar panels. Launch weight is around 400 kilograms. The design life is for 6 months of operation, but will likely run longer to gather as much data as possible.
Testing will place between five fixed ground stations in California and Washington and three mobile stations moved around near the fixed stations. Ground equipment testing, including end-user gear, might take place as well.
SpaceX will roll the testing data into a family of future communications satellites, with a first generation of 4,425 satellites orbiting at around 1,200 kilometers above the earth. A second generation of over 7,500 operating in V-band spectrum would orbit at a lower altitude of 340 kilometers.
But the satellites aren't only doing communications. Each has a low resolution camera and may be downloading imagery when they make a daily pass or two above a test station.
Starlink is expected to be the formal name for SpaceX's broadband service. Details are spars, but Musk believes a low orbiting satellite network can deliver latency performance competitive with or perhaps better than terrestrial fiber. End-user equipment could in the neighborhood of $200 or so, with speeds in the hundreds of megabits or faster and latency in the tens of milliseconds or less.