I have it on good authority that SpaceX's Elon Musk and Gwynne Shotwell:

...have talked about extending the Starlink network using longer-range laser comms and relay satellites to reach Mars and Starships in-transit...

It makes sense; Starlinks are downward-facing and compact. One could put several optical communications spacecraft in LEO that talked to them and pointed out to deep space to have continuous optical coverage.

Question: What exactly have they said about this so far to date? Have any technical tidbits been suggested by SpaceX or those who follow it closely?

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    $\begingroup$ Shotwell discussed it in an interview for TIME magazine shortly before I made that comment, and of course the Starlink TOS refers to Starlink services on Mars and in transit. I'm not aware of anything where they lay out the technical details of how they'd do it...they have or are actively working on all the pieces, but there's more than one way they could put them together. $\endgroup$ – Christopher James Huff Nov 17 '20 at 4:49
  • $\begingroup$ @ChristopherJamesHuff thanks! If this is what's known, then this is sufficient for an answer I think. Also, is Starlink TOS similar to Star Trek TOS? e.g. Did bridge consoles explode in TOS? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 17 '20 at 4:53
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    $\begingroup$ When I interviewed with the Starlink lasercom team they told me this was the long term goal. They want lasercom between Mars and Earth eventually. $\endgroup$ – Knudsen Number Nov 17 '20 at 18:04

They haven't publicly laid out detailed plans, but they have or are actively working on all the pieces such a system would require, and have mentioned it a couple times.

Shotwell discussed it in an interview for TIME magazine:

The second reason was once we take people to Mars, they're gonna need a capability to communicate. In fact, I think it will be even more critical to have a constellation like Starlink around Mars. And then of course you need to connect the two planets as well, so we need to make sure we have robust telecom between Mars and back to Earth.

Musk has also discussed it, for example at a Mars Society convention:

You just need a big laser, coming from Earth, probably want it to be in orbit so it doesn't get atmospheric diffraction or attenuation. You want to go from a big laser from Earth orbit to Mars orbit, and then you're going to need some relay stations for when Mars is on the other side of the sun.

The Starlink terms of service also references Starlink services provided on Mars and in transit to Mars.


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