SpaceX hits a milestone as Starlink arrives in Antarctica, high-speed internet now available on all seven continents

The Starlink dish can withstand extreme temperatures as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit.
Deena Theresa

SpaceX's Starlink internet service is now available in one of the most remote regions of the world: Antarctica, making the service available on all seven continents.

In a tweet on Wednesday, the National Science Foundation announced the milestone, stating that scientists with the U.S. Antarctic Program were "over the moon" and have been testing out a Starlink dish at the McMurdo Station, a U.S. research facility based on an island right off the coast of Antarctica to supply increased internet bandwidth.

In response, the aerospace company tweeted: "Starlink is now on all seven continents," and added that the capability is "enabled by Starlink's space laser network", which enables high-speed connections between distant satellites.

Faster broadband speeds for the first time in Antarctica

SpaceX's Starlink has always aimed to deliver high-speed, low-latency internet to users across the globe, allowing people in remote and rural communities to access faster internet speeds.

In 2021, SpaceX won Federal Communications Commission approval to fly 2,824 satellites at a lower orbit to provide high-speed broadband internet services to people who lack access. A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld the decision, as of last month.

Their latest milestone is just that: McMurdo Station previously relied on satellite internet from other providers and the broadband quality had to be shared over a 17Mbps connection for the entire research facility, housing over 1,000 people, reported PC Magazine.

Now, Starlink can offer much faster broadband due to the 'lower orbits' of the Starlink satellites. While residential users will have download speeds ranging from 50 to 200Mbps, business customers will have access to speeds from 100 to 350Mbps via a high-performance dish, which can withstand extreme temperatures as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit.

High-speed internet could "change the fundamental experience of living in Antarctica," Peter Neff, glaciologist and assistant research professor at the University of Minnesota, told The Verge in November 2021.

Space laser network does not require ground stations

This isn't SpaceX's first tryst with remote regions.

In July, SpaceX sent 46 Starlink satellites into space to orbit over the coldest and most remote areas of Earth, providing coverage to Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, and the Nordic countries, hoping to become available to consumers by 2023.

Last year, SpaceX fired 51 upgraded relay stations into polar orbit from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Normally, Starlink satellites fetch internet data by relying on ground stations on the planet's surface. But that was the project's first flight to an orbit around Earth's poles using 'new internet beacons featuring satellite-to-satellite laser communications links to minimize time lost relaying data through ground stations', reported CBS News.

As per numbers tracked by astronomer Jonathan McDowell, SpaceX has already launched more than 3,200 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit and has carried out 61 Starlink launches.

Next year onward, SpaceX plans to launch Starlink Version 2 satellites which will be able to beam service directly to smartphones, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said. Last month, Musk and T-Mobile president and CEO Mike Sievert announced a project called Coverage Above and Beyond, which aims to provide smartphone connectivity to T-Mobile customers pretty much everywhere.

These next-gen satellites will be launched using Starship, the giant rocket-spaceship combo that SpaceX is building to transport people and cargo to the Moon and Mars. Revenues from the broadband constellation will fund Starship.

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