By James Steindler
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… Elon Musk? Looking skyward at night, there’s a chance you’ll see a very distinct string of satellites orbiting the globe. If you’ve happened to spot them already, then a light may be going off in your head and hopefully this article can provide some clarity.
Those exceptionally bright satellites are part of SpaceX’s satellite infrastructure meant to connect customers around the world to the internet. SpaceX is the parent company of Starlink, the internet provider. The high-profile, tech-tycoon Elon Musk is the founder and CEO of SpaceX.
At this point, roughly 1,700 SpaceX satellites are in orbit and more are being launched into space on a regular basis. In fact, a SpaceX rocket with dozens of satellites is scheduled to launch on Dec. 3 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Starlink is not the first internet provider to operate by satellite. Other companies, such as HughesNet and Viasat, came before it but have launched far fewer satellites. Amazon is not far behind either. The SpaceX satellites also appear brighter because they are orbiting significantly closer to the earth’s surface than most.
According to its website, “Starlink is ideally suited for areas where connectivity has been unreliable or completely unavailable.” Right here in rural Colorado, and more specifically in places like the Crystal Valley, there are a number of people who have already signed up for Starlink. While some of those folks have received their starter kits, many have not yet.
Crystal Valley resident Jessica Grentner said she paid the $99 sign-up fee and has been on a wait list since February. “I had read in Facebook groups where some people had been given their accounts over the summer and was hopeful,” Grentner told The Sopris Sun. On Nov. 23, she received a long anticipated correspondence from Starlink. However, it was only to inform Grentner she would have to continue to wait. In the Nov. 23 email, the company claimed, “Silicon shortages over the last six months have slowed our expected production rate and impacted our ability to fulfill many Starlink orders this year.”
Another Crystal Valley resident, Hawkins Siemon, who has lived full-time in Marble for 17 years, was successful in attaining Starlink connectivity. Siemon explained that connectivity “has been very consistent and improved even from when we got the service in April.”
The setup process requires that the customer be self-sufficient. The customer receives a kit, which they’re expected to install on their own. “The setup process is very simple,” assured Siemon. “It arrives with its own router and modem. So all you have to do is plug in the wire from the dish to the modem and plug the router and modem into a power source.” A customer is also tasked with setting up a dish on their home to communicate with the satellites, which requires a clear view of the sky.
Overall, Siemon is satisfied. “This is for truly unlimited data at speeds far exceeding anything else available in remote areas,” Siemon stated. “We have seen download speeds as high as 350 MBPS [megabits per second] and we average 100 MPBS download speeds consistently. For comparison, if you have other satellite internet services, you may average closer to 20 MPBS download speeds.”
Starlink does not communicate by phone and certainly not in-person. For many, this takes away from the personal business-customer relationship many are accustomed to.
When The Sopris Sun reached out to SpaceX for an interview it was a matter of weeks before the company replied with a generic response reading: “Thanks for your interest in Starlink! Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone available to connect as our team is focused on rolling out Starlink service around the world….” The email was signed, “Kind regards, SpaceX Communications.”