SpaceX has provided the Washington Emergency Management Department with access to the Starlink satellite Internet service in an effort to support the state’s emergency response to dangerous fires.
Although the client is technically a military department, this is the first public announcement of using the Internet constellation in a civil service oriented role. In the case of Malden, WA, a small eastern city with around 200 residents, a fire broke out in the first week of September and destroyed nearly all buildings within hours. No fatalities were recorded, but the city and all its critical services actually ceased to exist upon the passage of the first.
Given the extent of fire damage Washington state suffered this summer, Malden ̵
While still firmly in the development and prototype stage, SpaceX has begun to gradually expand the scope of its beta tests as the Starlink constellation expands, building an already strong relationship with the US military. This helps explain why, of so many possible civilian recipients, WA Emergency Management – a military department – first received access to Starlink Internet services.
As SpaceX has made sure to reiterate during its many Starlink launch webcasts, the constellation’s main target demographics are those in regions that don’t have reliable internet access or almost completely. With a constellation in low earth orbit (LEO) like Starlink, SpaceX could provide reliable and uninterrupted internet almost anywhere on Earth, provided a potential user has access to sufficient power to operate their user terminal (antenna / router). According to SpaceX’s FCC application for said terminal, the A / C power input requirements should never exceed 2.5A from a normal 100-240V outlet.
Ultimately, Starlink’s planned second phase will see the constellation grow to the point that SpaceX can seriously begin competing with ground-based ISPs, even in densely populated areas. For now, however, the company has made it clear that the first phase – at least several thousand satellites – will primarily focus on connecting those who are not connected and substantially upgrading the capabilities of rescuers around the world.
Confirming February 2020 President / COO Gwynne Shotwell’s comments on a possible Starlink IPO, CEO Elon Musk reiterated that SpaceX could finally spin off Starlink and make the company public, “but only for several years into the future”. This is far from surprising, as Musk has consistently expressed contempt for the challenge of running Tesla as a public company, going so far as to find himself in hot legal waters in an unfortunate attempt to deprive the company in 2018.
Going public is perhaps the only worst thing SpaceX or any SpaceX spin-off could do, as shareholders generally have one goal in mind: reliable profit and reliable growth. This attitude is generally the death knell for highly uncertain research and development programs pursuing the first constellation of low-orbiting Internet satellites, reusable orbital-class rockets, 100-person spaceships or bases on the Moon and Mars. As such, Musk notes that SpaceX will consider making Starlink public, but if and only if Starlink reaches a point where “revenue growth is regular and predictable.” Shotwell and Musk, in other words, are on the same page.
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