SpaceX Starlink satellite internet tested in the field in Antarctica

SpaceX’s Starlink Internet continues to find success in Antarctica, the world’s frigid southern tip, and has spread beyond McMurdo Station.

In September 2022, the company first reported that Starlink had reached Antarctica as part of a National Science Foundation experiment. The milestone marked the reach of the satellite Internet network on all seven continents.

A series of lasers

Of the nearly 3,400 Starlink satellites currently in orbit, ~5% provide coverage of Antarctica (and the Arctic). SpaceX currently has 181 satellites operating in polar orbits, potentially providing coverage in the polar regions. But SpaceX’s Starlink Gen1 constellation of 520 polar satellites is only a third complete, and coverage is likely to be intermittent for now.

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Because there are no Starlink ground stations on the vast, sparsely populated continent, these polar satellites must use optical interlinks (lasers) to connect Antarctic users to ground stations hundreds of miles away. Instead, Users from South America; Australia They are connected to the Internet via space lasers that route their communications to New Zealand and other nearby ground stations.

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Each Starlink V1.5 satellite has multiple laser link terminals that allow the constellation to create a mesh network in space and reach even the most distant users. (SpaceX)

Studying the world’s oldest ice.

The general purpose of the Center for Oldest Ice Exploration (COLDEX) field experiment Starlink is to find the oldest ice on Earth. That old ice allows scientists to look back tens of thousands of times into Earth’s past. Most importantly for the modern age, That ice may contain shockingly detailed information about Earth’s climate history.

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Researchers like Dr. Neff collect ice cores by drilling miles into Antarctic ice sheets. Once extracted, packaged and carefully airlifted to laboratories around the world, the data extracted from those ice cores can tell researchers how Earth has responded to changes in climate, both large and small. Knowing how the past has reacted and behaved has helped scientists around the world determine with certainty that human greenhouse gas emissions are increasing average global temperatures at a relatively rapid rate. Further studies, like the one currently underway, can define the kinds of changes we can expect as the climate warms. While trying to prevent those outcomes, cities, Let nations and humanity as a whole prepare for the worst.

COLDEX Starlink began testing in the field. In early December 2022, It’s unclear whether the trial is still ongoing, but Dr. Peter Neff seems optimistic either way. In a Jan. 21 tweet, the assistant professor and director of field research wrote, “Excited to see how. [Starlink] & other modes of high-speed connection can be advanced. [science] Communication [and]…how to change science on the ice.”

Finding balance.

The National Science Foundation is in the unique position of being part of both Antarctic Starlink experiments so far. Through funding and other means, the government agency is helping efforts to test the limits of the SpaceX network and discover how it can benefit science in some of the harshest environments on Earth. At the same time, NSF holds an oversight role over other aspects of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.

For the most part, That relationship is tight, and SpaceX is highly anticipated and happy to collaborate. Despite no clear legal requirement, SpaceX has made extensive modifications to its satellites and continues to test ways to reduce their brightness for ground observers and limit their impact on astronomy. Nevertheless, The FCC’s decision to tie SpaceX’s next-generation Starlink Gen2 constellation license to its partnership with NSF gives the former agency slightly more regulatory power than before.

This disputes the involvement of the NSF (or NSF-funded researchers) in testing Starlink’s capabilities. Benefit Science is more important. Knowing firsthand how much impact high-bandwidth Internet can have in the field and at remote stations, NSF should be better suited to do the kind of cost-benefit analysis needed to determine how much impact (on the night sky, and astronomy) is relative to the benefits Starlink can provide.

SpaceX Starlink Satellite Internet Tested in Antarctica


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