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Satellite

Musk's Starlink reports 500K orders on Star Wars Day

The sky may be the limit, but Starlink has 500,000 pre-orders booked for its satellite Internet service.

Elon Musk's company allowed itself some wriggle room, saying deposits were fully refundable and did not guarantee service. But "most likely" all of the initial half million will receive service, said Musk.

The only challenge will be a high density of urban area users once they start numbering several million, he added.

Shooting up: The Force appears to be with Elon Musk as orders multiply for the Starlink service.  (Source:  Official Space X Photos on Flickr CC2.0)
Shooting up: The Force appears to be with Elon Musk as orders multiply for the Starlink service.
(Source: Official Space X Photos on Flickr CC2.0)

It's the first glimpse Starlink has given into its order book since February. Then, the company said it had exceeded 10,000 users since launching its "Better than Nothing Beta" service in October.

While the $49.5 million in deposits might be eaten up quickly by daily operations, the monthly fees would likewise start at $49.5 million, with 500,000 subscribers paying a monthly $99.

That begins looking like a reasonably good pile of cash.

May the Fourth be with Elon

The update about Starlink's subscribers just happened to arrive yesterday, just as this year's tenth Starlink mission boosted 60 satellites into orbit atop a Falcon 9. The launch took place on Star Wars Day, May 4, noted the website Space.com.

And in a good news trifecta for SpaceX (which runs Starlink), on Sunday, four astronauts (three from the US, one from Japan) splashed back to Earth in one of the company's Dragon capsules. A SpaceX Falcon 9 had ferried them to the International Space Station in November.

Meanwhile, the FCC gave SpaceX permission to start testing using its Starlink Internet from its Starship rocket. These first tests, which will be conducted until June 28, will only be at heights below 12.5 km.

But they show what SpaceX is already thinking: using Starlink in its own space operations.

Reaching for the stars with deep pockets

It is Starlink, in Musk's grand scheme, that pays eventually for building a colony on Mars.

Starlink will cost $10 billion or more to build, but it could bring in as much as $30 billion a year, ten times as much as SpaceX's existing rocket business, thinks the company.

Morgan Stanley's base case, it said in a note to investors in October, is that the rocket business will grow to an $11.7 billion valuation – but the satellite Internet business grows to $80.9 billion.

That valuation was double the investment bank's estimate of the company's worth in July. But a few months can change a great deal.

Since July, SpaceX has returned two NASA astronauts to Earth after a test flight, and it landed 40% of the US Air Force's national security space launch contracts.

It also saw download speeds over 100 Mbit/s and low latency in early tests of the Starlink network.

Satellite feedback

Download speeds, latency and price all impressed Starlink's first users CNBC surveyed last month. A few ended up choosing to use third-party Wi-Fi routers instead of Starlink's supplied one. Some users found it sacrificed customizability to pursue ease of setup.

Others admitted they found the setup process difficult, involving trips to their rooftops, or searches for points with unobstructed views of the sky.

But on the key issues of speed and cost, they were mostly happy. One user in a remote area of Ohio had switched from a slower local service costing $180 per month.

The stars seem to smile especially lately on Musk, who recently arrived in New York with his girlfriend ahead of hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend.

When he consulted Twitter for ideas for comedy sketches, one user quipped back, "pretend you're turning a profit from selling electric vehicles, not from selling zero-emission vehicle credits."

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Pádraig Belton, contributing editor special to Light Reading

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