Elon Musk Reveals Details of Next Generation Starlink Satellites

Elon Musk Reveals Details of Next Generation Starlink Satellites
The latest SpaceX launch lifted 53 satellites into low Earth orbit. (Photo: John Raoux, AP)

The next generation of Starlink satellites are going to be larger, and more powerful, designed to provide internet access to remote parts of the world, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. The space billionaire recently discussed the details of the Starlink Gen2 System on the popular YouTube show, Everyday Astronaut.

In the 32 minute clip, Musk reveals that SpaceX has already produced the first Starlink 2.0 satellite. The new generation satellite is 7 metres long, and about 1,250 kg or 1,250 kilograms heavy. Meanwhile, Starlink 1.0 is only about 260 kilograms heavy. The extra weight accounts for a more effective satellite, according to Musk.

“Just think of it like how many useful bits of data can each satellite do,” Musk said during the interview. “Starlink 2.0 in terms of useful bits of data is almost an order of magnitude better than a Starlink 1.0.”

As part of its growing megaconstellation of internet satellites, SpaceX first announced a new generation of its Starlink satellites in August 2021, “designed to complement the first-generation constellation SpaceX is currently deploying,” according to the company.

But the heavier satellites make for a more challenging cargo. Starlink satellites are lifted off to low Earth orbit on board a Falcon 9 rocket, but the rocket will not be capable of carrying Starlink 2.0. “Falcon neither has the volume nor the mass [for the] orbit capability required for Starlink 2.0,” Musk said. “So even if we shrunk the Starlink satellite down, the total up mass of Falcon is not nearly enough to do Starlink 2.0.”

Instead, SpaceX is banking on Starship, a heavy lift launch rocket that is currently under development, but has already suffered from numerous delays. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been working on an environmental review of the Starship program for months to assess its impact, and the report may finally be released by the end of the year, although it has been repeatedly pushed back, much to Musk’s dismay.

“We need Starship to work and fly frequently or Starlink will be stuck on the ground,” Musk said during the interview.

Meanwhile, not everyone is on board with a second generation of Starlink satellites lifting off to low Earth orbit. Earlier this year, NASA officials drafted a letter to the FAA expressing their concern over Starlink 2.0, and the risk of collision with the space agency’s various satellites and spacecraft.

Musk is building out a megaconstellation of internet satellites, hoping to launch a whopping total of 42,000 satellites to orbit in order to provide broadband internet to distant parts of the world. So far, SpaceX has about 2,300 functioning Starlink satellites that have been placed in orbit.

The satellites are already drawing criticism from various sources, including a group of researchers in China who recently drafted a paper on ways to destroy the satellites should they start posing a national threat.