According to this answer, which cites Wikipedia, the current batch of Starlink satellites that are being deployed don't have the ability to talk to each other. That will come later, according to SpaceX.

My question: what, then, is the goal of launching these satellites? Without the ability to be part of a "mesh" network, it seems they are mostly useless, right? Are there other aspects of the satellites that are being tested? If so, which ones?


3 Answers 3


Without the mesh network SpaceX cannot provide global service as originally assumed. A potential (but unsourced) model for what they have is similar to terrestrial mobile internet with ground stations in locations that have good internet access and provide service to a catchment area that reliably has satellites with line of sight to the ground station and the user. A random search got suggesting 2.93% of the US population without broadband access giving at least 9 million potential customers , plus an unknown number who have on paper access but their local provider is failing to deliver/overcharging. While the potential customers are global the current website (June 2020) suggests initial service to US and Canada.

Assuming the Starlink phased array antenna operates in a 45 degree cone that gives satellite footprint between 500 and 700 km, suggesting coverage of the US and Canada needs more than 10 ground stations but less than 100, very dependent on how often outages while satellites do not have both user and base station in sight are acceptable. With 22 satelites per plane and a 96 minute orbit period a new satelite will be along within a couple of minutes and for many uses occasional 5-10 seconds gaps would be acceptable. Not so useful for gaming of course.

The viability of this hybrid business model depends a lot on how effectively Starlink can find pockets of customers and negotiate the necessary terrestrial connectivity in various political entities and against other commercial interests.

  • $\begingroup$ The link in the answer below suggests an 1800km diameter satellite footprint - does that change your numbers much? $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ The article linked in Anthony's answer suggests that packets might be routed via multiple ground-to-space-to-ground hops, in which case most of the ground stations don't need terrestrial connectivity. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Tim that article is assuming a 25 degree minimum beam elevation. I've seen the 45 degrees in this answer quoted a number of times elsewhere as the minimum elevation Starlink will operate at (to avoid mutual interference with terrestrial users of the same spectrum). $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 1:22


This study claims that even without the inter satellite laser system, the latency is comparable to land fiber, which often take non-nominal paths. Light travels 31% more slowly in fiber compared to air.


One of the answers is time. They must launch x amount of satellites or they lose their license. They asked for a crazy number of satellites so they have to prove they need them. This gets the constellation up and they will replace them over time with the linked ones.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you have a source to back up your assertion that "They must launch x amount of satellites or they lose their license."? What is x? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ In May 2018 the FCC announced it: It appears that the company is starting out with a 4,425-satellite array, with the FCC requiring it launch at least half of those units within the next six years. “With this action, the Commission takes another step to increase high-speed broadband availability and competition in the United States,” the FCC said in a statement to CNBC $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 17, 2021 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ Great info! Where'd it come from? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 17, 2021 at 15:15

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