Beyond sharing a photo of his new dog Floki, talking about UFOs, and stressing the importance of reusable rockets on Twitter this week, Elon has also shared new features, including Starlink, that will be coming to the Crew Dragon capsule.
This week, the Inspiration4 mission has been front and center in every space-nerds mind. The four-person crew spent roughly three days on Earth orbit in a SpaceX Dragon capsule. They splashed down in the Atlantic ocean last night, completing the first of many private orbital missions into space.
Unlike all previous flights of Dragon, the capsule did not visit the International Space Station during its stay in space. This came with its advantages but was also not without challenge. Because they did not need to line up orbit with the station, they were able to have a long five-hour window for liftoff. This also meant that Dragon could not benefit from attachment to the ISS. The Dragon had only its own supplies and communications, limiting the possible duration in orbit compared to a Dragon mission to the ISS.
By not visiting the ISS, Inspiration4’s Crew Dragon Resilience didn’t need a docking adapter, so instead, they gained a large cupola allowing a brilliant view down to Earth.
SpaceX Dragon capsule gaining Starlink connectivity, food warmer
While in orbit, Inspiration4 shared a list of the food they’re enjoying in the Dragon Capsule. This included “Cold Pizza,” for which the crew was very excited. Dragon Capsule does not have a food warmer built-in. Being primarily meant for short-term travel to and from the International Space Station, it would have taken extra mass from the payload for each launch with minimal benefit. For these slightly longer stays in the capsule that don’t visit the station, that mass could be worth it.
Elon replied to Inspiration4’s tweet apologizing for the cold food, and promising “Dragon will have a food warmer & free wifi next time.” This free wifi would rely on SpaceX’s Starlink network. The next-generation set of Starlink satellites, which started launching earlier this month, all feature laser-based interconnects. This allows the satellites to communicate with each other in addition to the ground-based Starlink user terminals. This will provide widespread benefits. It will allow SpaceX to provide service around the world—in polar regions, the middle of the ocean, or even countries with major internet restrictions.
SpaceX will also be able to use these Starlink laser-links to connect to their Dragon Capsule and Starship. This will be a massive improvement over current communications methods. They currently rely on ground stations or NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System for connection with the spacecraft. With this setup, there are communication blackouts. Even when the Inspiration4 crew went live from the capsule, they only had about 10 minutes of live video communication. By adding Starlink, the capsule will be able to have internet connectivity without cutouts and with faster speeds.
With wifi in the capsule, can enjoy whatever music and movies they want.
Starlink program exiting Beta period
Starlink coming to Dragon wasn’t the only Starlink news this week. Elon shared that the satellite internet program will be exiting beta next month.
While customers around the world have already been enjoying increased internet speeds with Starlink, the program is still in beta. Elon Musk’s companies are known for their iterative improvements, and that has been the case. The user terminals and firmware have seen changes aimed at preparing the network for wider use. Some still experience periods of lost connectivity, but as even more satellites with improved capabilities are launched, those periods of lost connectivity should continue to decrease to zero.
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