SpaceX's Starlink has more than 400,000 users but Elon Musk say it's losing money. Here's what you need to know about the high-speed satellite network.
- Starlink is SpaceX's broadband service that beams internet connectivity from satellites in orbit.
- CEO Elon Musk recently said Starlink was continuing to lose money.
Elon Musk has built a super-fast, global internet service that use a satellite constellation orbiting Earth.
Starlink, operated by SpaceX, was launched in October 2020. It has more than 400,000 users worldwide, partnered with airlines and cruise ships, and played a role in the Ukraine war.
Despite its achievements, Musk has said that Starlink continues to lose money.
What's the hype about Starlink?
SpaceX, the aerospace manufacturer founded by Musk, has an expansive, high-speed satellite internet network in space called Starlink. The first Starlink satellites were launched on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket in May 2019.
Now, around 3,000 Starlink satellites envelope the Earth, offering broadband connectivity to users — especially those in rural areas without fixed-line connections. The goal is to have up to 42,000 satellites by mid-2027.
Musk recently said on Twitter that SpaceX has so far manufactured more than one million Starlink user terminals, which connect to the company's satellites in orbit.
When the service began, SpaceX said in an email to Starlink beta test subscribers they should expect speeds between 50 and 150 megabits per second, with intermittent outages. But some users hit much higher speeds. Starlink has even reached speeds of 175 Mbps in freezing temperatures, high winds and snow.
Activating in Ukraine and Iran
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, SpaceX has provided thousands of Starlink dishes to Ukrainians, even as Moscow ramps up efforts to hack the network.
Ukraine's vice-prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, asked Musk in February to send Starlink terminals to Ukraine. In response, Musk said Starlink was activated in Ukraine and promised terminals were on the way. By June, SpaceX had delivered 15,000 Starlink internet kits to Ukraine.
Reports suggest Starlink has helped Ukrainian troops. One example was when a Ukrainian soldier told a journalist that Starlink had helped Ukrainian soldiers to stay online while Russia attacked internet infrastructure.
Musk tweeted in September that Starlink was being activated in Iran at the same time as network outages hit the country. The disruption with connectivity and social media apps came amid protests over the death of a 22-year-old woman who died in police custody.
Costs have fluctuated
A Starlink subscription is $110 per month and another $600 for the Starlink kit, comprising of a tripod, WiFi router, and terminal.
The service costs more than what it initially charged users in October 2020. Customers previously paid $600 upfront for the kit and monthly subscription. SpaceX told customers in March it was raising prices, with new customers now paying $710 upfront. However, prices were cut in late August for users in the US and Europe.
Insider explained how to sign up for the service, which works on a "first-come, first-served basis."
"Starlink is still losing money!" according to a Friday tweet from Musk, who has spoken out in the past about the difficulties with financing the network. It was in response to a Twitter thread that referenced CNN's report about SpaceX asking the Pentagon to foot the bill for the internet service in Ukraine.
According to documents obtained by CNN, SpaceX told the Pentagon it couldn't afford to pay to keep Starlink running in Ukraine. The company wrote a letter to the Pentagon, saying that maintaining Starlink in Ukraine would cost over $120 million until 2022 end and nearly $400 million over the next year, per CNN.
Musk tweeted SpaceX was burning around $20 million per month to operate Starlink in Ukraine.
SpaceX's President Gwynne Shotwell said in September 2021 the company had reduced the cost of each Starlink terminal from $3,000 to $1,500. This is despite users paying $600 for the Starlink kit. Musk tweeted in February 2021 that SpaceX "needs to pass through a deep chasm of negative cashflow over the next year or so to make Starlink financially viable."
Starlink wanted by airlines and cruises
SpaceX asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March 2021 if it could expand Starlink to the automotive industry. In June, the agency granted SpaceX authorization to use Starlink on vehicles in motion.
Since its FCC request last year, Starlink has signed deals with the likes of Royal Caribbean, Hawaiian Airlines, and semi-private regional jet service JSX to offer passengers WiFi. The company has also been in talks with Delta and Frontier Airlines.
Starlink uses antennas — "electrically identical" to existing user terminals — which can be mounted on vehicles, vessels, and aircraft. Musk tweeted the antennas wouldn't connect Tesla cars to Starlink because the terminals are "much too big."
Are you a Starlink user? How are you finding it? Get in touch with this reporter via Twitter DM or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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