Today, during a keynote speech Elon Musk gave at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, the SpaceX CEO announced a major update on the rollout timeline for his low-Earth orbit high-speed broadband internet service, Starlink.
"In August we should have global connectivity in everywhere except the poles," Musk said during the MWC keynote. This means that the launch is nearly ready, and it's coming at least one month sooner than we thought. Last week, company President Gwynne Shotwell stated that Starlink would go global this September, but it seems the deadline has just moved up a few weeks.
Elon Musk's SpaceX aims to lower the terminal cost for Starlink installation
"You can think of Starlink as filling in the gaps between 5G and fiber," added Musk, "really getting to the most difficult to reach three or five percent" of people in need of high-speed broadband internet. "We'll have 500,000 users within 12 months. It's growing rapidly, and we're continuing to [roll out] the user terminal."
But how affordable is it for individuals? Getting a Starlink dish will cost about $500. And Musk noted that monthly subscriptions will be "the same price all over the world," excluding taxes. "We're taking into account exchange rates [...] it's about $100 per month," he said.
Musk also made it clear that the company is losing money on the terminal as of writing, and SpaceX is working on next-gen terminals that can offer the same service at a lower cost.
"We'd like to reduce the cost of the terminal from $500 to $200 or $350 or something like that," added Musk. "Our customers will very often live in remote regions. Sometimes they're up in a cabin up in the mountain that doesn't even have electricity!" So SpaceX is designing the system so it doesn't need a lot of maintenance, and it is intended to go online in just five minutes. "You should [be able to] point it at the sky and plug it in," he said.
As an interesting aside, Musk noted that Starlink satellites orbit Earth at around 500 km, whereas geosynchronous satellites are at about 35,000 km.
Musk also spoke about the potential for partnerships with mobile operators. "We have two quite significant partnerships that — with major country telcos (telecommunications companies), and we are in discussions with others," Musk said. "This is helpful because a number of countries have requirements that — in order to receive a 5G license, you also have to provide rural coverage. So sometimes urban customers end up subsidizing rural customers."
SpaceX's Starship orbital flight launch site will be ready in the next months
"With Falcon 9 we achieved the most efficient reusability for any rocket to date," said Musk. Some rockets are slated to fly 20 or even 30 times. "When you look at the cost of the rocket, you've got 60% of the cost in the first stage, and about 10% in the faring," Musk explained. "So this is really a very good number for a rocket," he added, referencing the forthcoming Starlink prototype's space missions in comparison to Saturn V rockets. "It's about 3.5 to 1 ratio of oxygen to fuel [...] instead of helium with the Falcon 9." Helium is expensive, so the cost of propellant for Starship will be comparable to the cost of a Falcon 9, but with full reusability, Musk explained.
The cost of reusing a Starship will cost a little less than $2 million, said Musk during the keynote. The Starship will also see orbital refueling primarily with oxygen. It's "the first system that will be capable of building a base on the moon, and a city on Mars."
"We're hoping to do our first orbital launch attempt [for Starship] in the next few months," said Musk. He also said the Starship's orbital launch site will be ready in the next month or so. "SpaceX is trying to extend the scope of consciousness beyond Earth, and Tesla is trying to ensure that life is good on Earth in terms of sustainable energy," he added, summarizing his intentions with his companies. "That future includes expanding the scope and scale of consciousness. We don't really know what the answers are, or what questions to ask."
It's not an exaggeration to say that Elon Musk's companies are changing the face of modern society. From Tesla's all-electric vehicles (most recently the refurbished Model S Plaid), which is surpassing legacy automakers' EV supercars, to SpaceX's threshold-breaking Starship prototype flights, and the rapidly expanding Starlink network — his tech empire is evolving.
Ultimately, his companies are changing our infrastructure and the way we travel. They have even almost single-handily made private spaceflight and reusable rockets a reality. And of course, there is also Neuralink, which seeks to unite the human brain with computers. It sounds unbelievable. However, given his track record, if anyone can really make it happen, it's Elon Musk.
That said, with legal disputes in the U.S. and abroad, and in a world experiencing an industrial and social bottleneck following the COVID-19 crisis, it's probably going to be a bumpy ride.
This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.