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Musk: “Starlink out of beta-usage this summer”

April 19, 2021

Just hours before NASA awarded a massive $2.9 billion contract to restart human flights to the Moon – and back – Elon Musk, in one of his Tweets, told an enquirer that SpaceX’s Starlink broadband-by-satellite service would be transitioning out of a widespread beta-programme into conventional usage “probably by this summer”.

Moreover, Musk answered another persistent question, which was how ‘moveable’ would the Starlink home unit be? Musk said: “[Starlink] should be fully mobile later this year, so you can move it anywhere or use it on an RV or truck in motion. We need a few more satellite launches to achieve compete coverage & some key software upgrades.”

Analyst Michael Sheetz has surveyed more than 50 Starlink users in 13 US states and Canada (where most beta-users are based), and reported that a Maine user said: “The service is quite reliable, there are a few outages once in a while. We mostly use it to watch Netflix, Hulu and YouTube. We do a bit of gaming as well .[..]with no issues.”

However, some beta-users, while enjoying the Starlink service, also expressed concerns that the current limitless usage pattern would be curbed sometime in the future. Some, said Sheetz, expected data caps to be inevitable. Others welcome the probability of 1Gb/s downloads. Some happily reported download speeds of close to 300Mb/s.

There were some complaints, and one user talked of frequent short outages which made Zoom-type working-from-home connectivity a challenge.

However, the NASA contract (for its Artemis programme) is, according to Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s citing administrator: “a key piece to our moon-to-Mars strategy. Today is a big step forward. This is an incredible time to be involved in human exploration for all humanity.”

Musk’s Starship and its related crew capsule is well ahead of the other bidders said to be in the race to return to the Moon including Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin system (in a partnership with Lockheed Martin), and Northrop Grumman as well as defence contractor Dynetics.

One observer commented that if SpaceX manages to “pull this off” then NASA will be getting return access to the Moon for about 13 per cent of the costs of the Apollo era hardware.

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