In 2020, the pilot program for Starlink was officially launched with households across the United States given their first chance to try the service.
Judging by the sign-up numbers, many people were very happy with the opportunity. But, like any new technology that most people don't entirely understand, not everybody agrees.
Starlink involves launching thousands of new satellites. Some people question whether this is a price worth paying, and there are also questions about the safety of satellite internet.
So, is satellite internet safe to use? And is launching so many satellites a good idea?
Why Is Satellite Internet Being Developed?
Internet speeds have never been faster, but the availability of such speeds still depends largely on where you live. There are large parts of the world, and even the United States, where it's not possible to get online at all.
Satellite internet providers hope to change this. Once a sufficient number of satellites are in orbit (Starlink is aiming for 12,000), internet blindspots are expected to disappear. Anyone who wants to get online will need nothing more than a satellite dish pointed at the sky.
Is Satellite Internet Safe to Use?
Due to the number of satellites being launched, some people have questioned whether or not all of this is safe. Satellites are known for emitting radiation, and there's going to be a lot of them.
The good news is that each satellite relies on technology that's been well tested. Data is transmitted using radio waves, specifically the Ku and Ka bands.
Radio waves have been around for decades. If you have satellite television, you encounter them every day. However, the widely dispersed nature of the satellite radiation means that it has a negligible effect at ground level, meaning satellite internet doesn't pose any health risk.
Is Satellite Internet Secure?
The potential health risks of satellite internet are well understood. A more difficult question to answer about the service is whether or not it is secure. The increasing popularity of satellite internet has been greeted with questions by some security experts.
The problem they point out is that some of the data being transmitted by satellites can be picked up as it travels to and from the Earth. It's also possible to modify some of that data before it reaches its intended recipient.
And this doesn't necessarily require expert equipment either. A recent study showed that this could be achieved with equipment worth $ 300.
It's important to note that this problem doesn't apply to all traffic. This type of attack is also ineffective provided you are using an encrypted connection.
But it does highlight the fact that as satellite internet gains popularity, it also presents new opportunities for cybercriminals.
Is It Dangerous to Have So Many Satellites in Orbit?
As of 2021, SpaceX has launched 1,791 satellites into orbit. While this is only a fraction of the satellites scheduled, some people are already pointing out potential problems.
Starlink Satellites Are Showing Up in Astronomy Photos
Many astronomers are unhappy with the project. For example, some satellites in orbit are much brighter than expected, causing them to get in the way of otherwise clear photos of the stars.
SpaceX has responded to these complaints. All Starlink satellites now launch with sunshades that reduce the amount of sunlight reflected off them.
Multiple satellite companies, including SpaceX, have agreed to a brightness threshold that should make satellites impossible for the human eye to see against a dark sky.
SpaceX are apparently close to this threshold but haven't yet met it entirely. It's worth noting that even when this threshold is met, satellites will still be visible to anyone using a telescope.
The Satellites Might Collide With Each Other
Another problem with adding thousands of satellites to the sky is that the odds of a collision happening can only go up. According to NASA, this is already a problem.
Whenever a satellite passes within one kilometer of another this is known as a close encounter. One thousand six hundred of these encounters happen every week, and SpaceX satellites account for over half of them.
Collisions in space have occurred before. Furthermore, a collision in space doesn't automatically mean that any debris will find its way to Earth.
But there's also a limit to the number of collisions that can occur before satellite internet starts to look like a losing proposition.
Will Satellite Internet Prove Successful?
Safety concerns aren't the only thing that critics of satellite internet are talking about. There's also the question of price and overall effectiveness.
SpaceX launched its pilot program in 2020. Early demand for the service has been very high with over half a million users signing up in the United States alone.
The pilot program isn't cheap. Customers are required to pay $ 499 for the equipment and then $ 99 per month after that. Some people have been quick to point out the problem with these prices.
If satellite internet is to achieve its primary goal of bringing internet to everybody, it's going to have to get a lot cheaper.
Many of the people living in areas without traditional internet access are not on high incomes. There's very little point in introducing new internet options to such areas if nobody can afford them.
The good news is that SpaceX recognizes this problem, and prices are expected to drop with widespread adoption.
Satellite internet is not a new invention but it's also never been attempted on this scale before. Questions are therefore also being asked about its effectiveness.
In order to be affordable, there needs to be millions of users. How fast will the service be when this happens?
The strength of a satellite signal also depends largely on where the satellite dish is placed. If satellite internet is to be used in hard-to-reach areas, how effective will it be at getting past the obstacles that make those areas hard to reach?
While initial reviews of Starlink have been positive, it's likely that we will not know the exact answers to these questions for quite some time.
Is Satellite Internet a Good Idea?
Satellite internet is safe to use. It's also something that your neighbors can use without posing any risk to you.
There are definite disadvantages to the technology; astronomers are unlikely to ever welcome its introduction. But given the problem that the service is attempting to solve, many people would argue that this is a price worth paying.