Elon tweets this week: Starlink for airplanes, Starship updates, and competition in space

Elon Musk is known for his online antics and market-moving jokes. His Twitter account also provides a wealth of information.

He sometimes replies to questions about Starship development, or else releases information on SpaceX’s growing Starlink network of satellites. We decided to sift through the jokes and memes to narrow it down to the important information.

*Eye-roll* While the specific number of active users may have been shared for… well… comedic reasons, it is a great insight into the growth of Starlink. In a matter of a year, Starlink has gained nearly 70,000 users. With how many people are still waiting for their Starlink orders, this is certainly a significant userbase. As we get farther into summer, there will no doubt be some more issues to iron out, such as the recent overheating issues, but this is a major growth from the 10,000 users cited earlier this year.

The use of 72 orbital planes in the initial shell, as was approved in late 2019, rather than the initial plan of 24 orbital planes, improves coverage across lower latitudes. Global coverage is as essential to Starlink’s success as reliability is. It is unsurprising that polar regions will take an additional 6 months. The launch of 10 polar orbit Starlink satellites with Transporter-1 certainly isn’t enough to cover both poles. We can expect a ramp-up of polar Starlink launches from Vandenberg later this year after SpaceX’s droneship Of Course I Still Love You arrives at port Long Beach.

SpaceX’s Transporter-1 launching the first 10 polar Starlink satellites along side close to 100 other payloads. Photo by Jared Locke for Space Explored

The idea of Starlink-equipped airplanes is exciting. Currently, in-flight internet is provided either by the plane connecting to ground-based stations while over land, or satellite connection while over the oceans. While Starlink is another satellite connection, the speed over traditional satellite internet would be a massive improvement. Some airline satellite providers advertise speeds test slightly over 100 Mbps shared among all passengers. If Starlink is able to reach the goal of 10 Gigabit, this would be revolutionary. Even if they are only able to achieve 1 Gigabit speeds, this would be a dramatic improvement over current offerings. Musk says they are currently awaiting regulatory approval for planes with the highest capacity, the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320.

Neither this tweet nor the next one reveal new information, but it is good to see that Elon still plans on bringing Starlink public once it is a practical decision. How Elon may go about giving “long-term Tesla shareholders preference” remains to be seen.

Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance shared a graphic made by the company noting the amount of time it takes for orbital debris to decay at various orbits. Elon’s reply to this tweet echoes the reasons previously given for Starlink’s lower altitude. In addition to the lower altitude providing slightly lower latency, the lower altitude means that debris will decay out of orbit in a matter of years. That also ignores the active deorbit procedure that Starlink satellites are capable of in order to quickly deorbit. This is an important step to keep space clean so we can continue to explore it well into the future.

Starship

While in the long term, hot gas thrusters may be a far more efficient option, it’s unsurprising that the SpaceX team plans to continue with cold gas thrusters for the time being. Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX has said they are still aiming for a July orbital flight. This certainly seems like a very optimistic estimate. Everything will need to go properly for them to have a chance of making this flight.

Chinese space station

For those unfamiliar with the Wolf Amendment, it is a law passed in 2011 which prohibits NASA from using government funds to cooperate directly with the Chinese government. It has been widely criticized as it limits the possibility of cooperation that could lead to future scientific exploration and understanding. With the first crew now on the Tianhe module of China’s space station, cooperation now could be more valuable than ever.

Tesla

It’s unfortunate to see all these delays in release, but important that they work out all the issues to release reliable software. Even in beta, on a public road, the major issues definitely need to be worked out ahead of time. I would certainly be interested in knowing what these “obvious issues” are. While subscription services for cars have certainly been a bit controversial, perhaps this FSD subscription will allow people to try out the service without the $10,000 barrier to entry.

Well, if you’ve been interested in working at Tesla, the AI Day may be your chance! It’s hard to say exactly what will take place that day. Electrek will be covering new Tesla news and events as they occur.

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