First launched in February 2018, the SpaceX Starlink satellites consists of a satellite constellation being constructed by SpaceX with the aim of providing satellite Internet access. To build this constellation of satellites and provide internet access, SpaceX says that there will be thousands of mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit, working in combination with ground transceivers.
Talk about SpaceX Starlink: What is it? How would it work?
In terms of potential revenue that the Starlink system could potentially bring in up to $25 billion dollars of revenue, which far exceeds the revenue that SpaceX brings in from rocket launches. The potential for use on Earth is not a limit of the Satellites as SpaceX has said that there is the potential for using the Starlink satellites for use when they go to Mars.
There are definitely some opportunities in this market to provide service to those who are underserved by current internet providers. Studies have shown that lacking internet, called the digital divide, creates employment, learning, and other gaps in areas. For more information about this digital divide, check out this New York Times article. This is obviously a competitive market as a few other competitor systems have been announced, from companies such as Amazon, Telenet, Oneweb, and Samsung.
A big issue for these satellites is that they will be so numerous and so bright that astronomy in both the optical and radio wavelengths will be severely impacted. Scientists say that the number of Starlink satellites could outnumber visible stars and severely impact scientific observation. The issue is that the autonomous changes in their orbits mean that observations by scientists cannot avoid Starlink satellites. To mitigate concerns by the astronomy community, SpaceX. installed a new sunshade, or visor, that was designed to reduce the brightness.
Outside of the affect that these Starlink satellites are having on astronomy and astronomers, there has been talk about the risks that the number of satellites in low earth orbit could have on space junk. With SpaceX launching so many satellites into orbit, it could set a precedent that other companies could follow to setup their own systems, which would then crowd Earth orbits. This would prevent humanity from launching satellites in the future. SpaceX has plans to have their satellites avoid collisions and deorbit burn in the atmosphere. Time will tell how these satellites play into the growing number of satellites around Earth.