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June 20, 2024

SpaceX Launches First Starlink Satellites With Direct-to-Cell Phone Connectivity

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Jan 3, 2024

SpaceX conducted its first launch of 2024 on January 3rd, sending up 21 Starlink satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. This mission marked a major milestone for SpaceX’s Starlink internet constellation, as 6 of the satellites feature new technology allowing them to connect directly to cell phones without requiring a separate user terminal.

Starlink Aims To Provide Global Cellular Coverage

The 6 new satellites are the first of SpaceX’s planned Gen2 Starlink design, which adds a larger phased array antenna allowing for direct communication with cell phones. As CEO Elon Musk tweeted after the launch:

“First laser inter-satellite links activated & six satellites ready for direct mobile phone connections – connecting to cell tower without local tower.”

By enabling smartphones to connect to orbiting Starlink satellites as if they were cell towers, SpaceX hopes to provide mobile coverage across the entire planet and drastically expand internet accessibility.

Many regions around the world currently lack cellular infrastructure, leaving over half the global population without mobile connectivity. Starlink’s direct-to-cell service aims to solve this by allowing phones to bypass terrestrial towers.

New Starlink Satellites Feature Larger Antennas

To enable the direct mobile connections, the new Starlink satellites have a larger phased array antenna spanning about 5 square meters. This expanded antenna array allows for more concentrated beams that can link up with phones using 3GPP frequency bands commonly employed by cellular networks.

The six direct-to-cell test satellites launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at 7:27 PM local California time on January 3rd along with 15 standard Starlink satellites equipped with inter-satellite laser links for high-speed data routing in space. They were deployed into a 326 x 334 mile orbit.

More Launches Planned As SpaceX Expands Starlink

While this initial batch will serve as an in-space testbed for the technology, SpaceX has plans for monthly launches in 2024 to continue building out the Starlink constellation. Regulatory filings indicate the company aims to deploy up to 42,000 satellites to provide global high-speed broadband internet.

SpaceX kicked off an extremely busy January launch schedule right out of the gate with this mission. Its next Starlink launch is targeting liftoff on January 4th out of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Launch Date Location
January 3 Vandenberg SFB, California
January 4 Cape Canaveral SFS, Florida
January 5 Vandenberg SFB, California
January 9 Cape Canaveral SFS, Florida

Mobile Carriers Partner With SpaceX On Direct-to-Cell Service

While Starlink’s broadband service has been publicly available since 2020, the direct mobile connectivity enabled by these new satellites is still in early testing stages.

SpaceX has inked deals with telecommunication companies like ENTEL to deploy this technology and assess its performance across various regions. During his post-launch tweet storm, Elon Musk said the partnerships with operators will be crucial to roll out service globally.

However, the SpaceX CEO also noted Starlink is “not seeking to compete with telecoms companies” but rather work with them to provide coverage where there currently is none. This mobile satellite connectivity is intended to complement rather than replace terrestrial 5G and 4G networks.

Conclusion

This first batch of direct-to-cell Starlink satellites represents a major step in SpaceX’s plans to leverage satellite technology for global mobile coverage and expanded internet access. More launches are imminent as Musk and SpaceX test and refine the system throughout 2024. Partnering with local telecoms will also be key for wide-scale deployment.

While still in early stages, this novel approach of connecting phones straight to satellites in space could truly realize Elon Musk’s vision of enabling mobile connectivity anywhere on Earth. 2024 is shaping up to be a monumental year for Starlink’s capability expansion – this January 3rd launch marks just the beginning.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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