Starlink laser link has been part of SpaceX’s overall plan to improve the performance of Starlink internet.
The plan is to deploy space laser technology at a large scale and eliminate dependency on ground stations for communication.
We are going to show you whether the plan has taken effect and the benefits of equipping satellites with this technology.
But to understand the significance of laser links, you must learn how Starlink satellites communicate.
Table of Contents
- How Do Starlink Satellites Communicate?
- What is Starlink Laser Link?
- Does Starlink Use Laser Link?
- Benefits of Starlink Satellites Lasers
- Wrapping it Up
How Do Starlink Satellites Communicate?
Starlink constellations consisting of thousands of satellites set in low earth orbit mostly aim at offering broadband connection to underserved or remote areas.
The satellites must communicate with each other and the ground devices to achieve this.
Starlink satellites normally use radio frequency to communicate with each other.
The radio frequencies allow the satellites to communicate beyond the line of sight of one another.
A satellite can still receive and send data from another satellite even if it is out of sight to maintain connections.
Starlink also communicates to ground stations using radio waves.
Ground stations are simply receiver centers for Starlink internet between your home and satellites.
They link the satellites to a data center on Earth.
Your device will connect to the most available satellite near you when you request connections.
The satellite then sends your request to a ground station, relaying the connection to a massive data center.
The data center sends the request back to the ground station, which takes it back to satellites from which you can access it to your device.
However, the original plan was to equip satellites with laser communication terminals that use OISLs (optical inter-satellite links) to send data between satellites.
This would ensure a faster connection and transmission of data.
Unfortunately, the technology proved complex and expensive to deploy on a large scale, so the company designed its first satellites to use radio waves.
Earth station satellite control center
What is Starlink Laser Link?
Laser links enable Starlink satellite data communication.
They enable Starlink satellites to communicate directly with each other eliminating the need for radio wave and ground station dependency.
SpaceX engineers confirmed that they have been experimenting with a batch of satellites that rely on lasers to communicate.
As such, the company is keen on equipping its satellite with laser links to enable the spacecraft to communicate effectively.
So, do Starlink satellites already use laser links?
Laser communication satellite floating in space
Does Starlink Use Laser Link?
SpaceX has confirmed it is already equipping its satellites with laser links to offer internet connection to several regions.
We could confirm this from an email a company representative sent to upcoming customers who had ordered the service in Canada.
The email revealed that the company has begun to cover remote areas in Canada, Australia, and Antarctica with laser-equipped satellites.
There have been several Starlink satellite launches by SpaceX since the announcement. If every launch featured laser light, we can approximate that around 64 would be operational now.
That said, Starlink satellites still mostly rely on radio frequencies to communicate with each other and a ground station system called gateway.
So, you still need to be closer to the ground station within 500 miles of your location to get service.
Benefits of Starlink Satellites Lasers
Starlink connections come with several benefits to users.
Starlink Laser Link speed
Lasers are capable of transmitting data between satellites at lightning speed.
The technology transmits data between satellites much faster than radio waves.
Lasers can be pointed and received more precisely, which makes them more efficient and move faster in a vacuum than radio waves.
Ideally, Starlink aims at hundreds of gigabytes or potentially terabytes per second data rate with laser communication.
The company anticipates huge data growth in the future; as such, data throughput will be critical.
SpaceX launches their Starlink satellites in low earth orbit, reducing latency.
However, laser beams can reduce the already lower latency by up to 50%.
Lasers move at lightning speed in a vacuum and cover a shorter distance between the satellites than the radio waves, and this lower latency.
Though we hinted that radio frequencies enable Starlink satellites to communicate beyond the line of sight, sometimes the satellites lose connection due to distance. This will interfere with the signal you receive.
Starlink lasers can help bridge this gap by maintaining connections between Starlink satellites and ground stations.
The laser link is less prone to interference because it covers a shorter distance and can be pointed much more precisely.
This makes the receivers of the satellites interact much better and maintain their connections.
As of this writing, only around 147 active Starlink internet ground station locations exist.
As the service expands, more and more will have to be added for global coverage because you must be close to a ground station for a reliable network.
Since laser link enables satellites to communicate without reliance on the ground station, it reduces the need for stations for the network to operate.
That way, the need to be closer to a ground station for a reliable network will not be necessary.
Better Marine and Aviation Services
Lasers have longer waves compared to radio waves. This makes them better serve planes and ships away from the ground stations.
Wrapping it Up
The future of space communication is very encouraging, thanks to ongoing research and development efforts like laser link technology.
Laser promises more speed and expanded Starlink coverage.
With the expected Starlink internet data growth, laser links will be critical to deal with the sheer volume of data transfer and maintaining connection.