SpaceX Starlink Master Plan

A parody, not written by Elon Musk

If you have read my master plan for Tesla, you are familiar with my trickle-down approach to new businesses. By developing Roadster first, then Model S and X, and eventually to more affordable Mode 3, we were able to concentrate our R&D resources on solving the toughest problem early on. So my plan for Starlink will follow similar patterns and basically consists of:
  • Create the first Starlink terminal for professionals, which would necessarily be a bit bulky and expensive to use 
  • Use that money to build a consumer terminal that can be installed on people’s rooftop and offer competitive broadband rates
  • Use that money to build a low cost and high volume mobile phone (StarPhone)
  • Build out an interstellar communication system that will support Mars and beyond

Starlink’s initial plan starts with professional users such as government, military, oil & gas, and shipping fleets. But recently I see signs the second step “consumer home Internet access” can come much earlier and might even be concurrent with the professional customers. There are a few reasons behind this.

We learned quite a few lessons from previous unsuccessful attempts by Iridium and GlobalStar. Their satellite deployment was too slow, constellation too sparse, customer acquisition too narrowly focused on the professional market, and they lost the narrow window of opportunity to compete against land based cellular carriers.

This time around, technology and economics have both improved. Our SpaceX rockets have slashed the price of launching by more than half: $150M for a maxed out Falcon Heavy compared to our closest competitor at $400M. Our Starlink Satellites are designed for mass production and much cheaper. And we reduced the complexity of our user terminal by initially focusing on a pizza box sized device instead of handheld phones.

However, the economy of satellite to consumer Internet service is far from proven: the window of opportunity is still narrow, the deployment cycle is still quite long and somewhat unpredictable, and the mobile carriers are racing ahead with 5G on earth. So what will we do?

Fast and furious deployment

We have a boatload of satellites to launch, 12,000 (with possible later extension to 42,000), and we have to be fast. By clever engineering, we can fit 60 satellites into each Falcon 9 launch vehicle and we plan to launch as often as every 4 weeks. Once our Starship is ready, we can launch as many as 400 satellites at a time.

Back on earth, our SolarCity team will be able to install customer terminals on their rooftop. If installed together with Tesla solar panels, we can achieve energy positive for the entire Starlink system since all our satellites are solar powered.

Offer a better service to the under-connected 

Starlink will be able to provide a first class Internet service to the developing world where a large portion of the world population is not yet connected. Even in developed countries like the US, Starlink can significantly increase the Internet access speed for rural communities, as well as provide alternative service for urban areas where there are typically less than 2 competing Internet Service Providers.

From our 2019 tests, we can achieve up to 610Mbps throughput and 25-35 ms latency. This is not your grandpa’s geosynchronous satellite: by using very low orbits (340KM), a very large constellation (>12,000) and new radio bands (V-band in addition to Ku and Ka bands) we can achieve insane total capacity. And Starlink can be competitive against 5G, because the cellular carriers need to deploy a lot more cell sites and buy expensive spectrums. And best of all, we don’t need to pay site rentals and backhaul. Therefore we can be cost competitive even factoring in the high cost of manufacturing and launching those satellites.

Once our entire constellation is completed in 5-7 years time, we will have the most advanced Internet service covering the entire globe. And everyone on the planet can enjoy the same level of high speed Internet service at roughly the same cost regardless of where they live.

Sharing

I mentioned ridesharing in our Master Plan, Part Deux of Tesla, but we will go a step further for Starlink. We will soon start a refundable deposit program in order to secure your user terminal and early access to the service. Better still, that deposit will make you not only a user of the Starlink service but also an owner of the Starlink project. Your deposit will be used to fund the satellite launches and build-out of the Starlink constellation.

In addition, your rooftop terminal can serve as the local hub to provide Internet service to your neighbors and you can make money while you sleep. In a way we are enabling you to become a mini Internet Service Provider, just like you can resell your surplus Solar energy back to the electricity grid. Every Starlink user’s terminals will be able to connect in a mesh to each other using laser or high frequency radio waves, so the constellation is both in the sky and on earth. And we bought a good brand name for it, EarthLink, from a now defunct ISP company.

My friend Jack at Twitter has been a fan of decentralization and we are exploring new ways their team’s learnings can be applicable to Starlink.

To Mars and beyond

We skipped the StarPhone part, since it is purely a miniaturization effort. But Mars is clearly in our oversized vision. We are already testing the laser link between v1.0 Starlink satellites to form a mesh network, which will pave the groundwork for our Mars expedition. 

We envision a continuous flow of passenger and cargo spaceships (named StarFleet), as well as many intermediate drone space stations between earth and Mars (named SpaceBarge) to form an Interstella mesh network. This will enable our Mars pioneers to be always connected between the planetary colonies. And my hope is that, after successfully colonized Mars, you and I will be even more appreciative of earth and use the technology we learned from Mars to make earth a even better home.

And anyone who pays a refundable deposit for SpaceLink by the end of 2020, can win a chance to become one of the first passengers aboard Starship to travel to Mars.

So in short, the master plan is:

  • Create the first Starlink terminal for professionals, which would necessarily be a bit bulky and expensive to use 
  • Use that money to build a consumer terminal that can be installed on people’s rooftop and offer competitive broadband rates
  • Use that money to build a low cost and high volume mobile phone
  • Build out an interstellar communication system that will support Mars and beyond

Don’t tell anyone.

P.S. Countries with administratively limited Internet access

Some readers have emailed me and proposed that Starlink Internet access can be the killer app in countries with, well, administratively limited Internet access. They even sent in some design of the Starlink antenna disguised as roof owls, Bonsai tree and other roof ornaments.

Our position on this is quite clear, as Gwynne Shotwell stated in recent interviews, “in many countries the company will be required to partner with local telecom firms to offer the service”. Besides, as chairman of Tesla Motors, I need to make sure our gigafactories around the world can produce Model 3s to its full capacity.

P.P.S. Your nightly sky

Some astronomers have expressed concerns about our large constellation that “brightness in both optical and radio wavelengths will severely impact scientific observations”. We intend to paint all future Starlink satellites to chroma green, so they can be easily removed in photoshop or in your smart glasses in real-time.

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