How SpaceX’s Starlink Can Go Way Beyond Satellite Internet
Thumbnail Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller / Science Photo Library
With a goal to “beam high-speed Internet from space, down to the most remote parts of the world,” SpaceX’s Starlink may seem like an extraordinary satellite internet provider with a basic, but noble goal. But, to those knowing SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk and his need for the grandiose, then you know there’s much more potential than what has so far been mentioned.
While Starlink, SpaceX’s privatized satellite constellation, currently operates in a beta state serving internet wirelessly to seventeen countries across the globe, there’s so much more that Starlink can accomplish.
After all, with tests of GPS navigation and high-speed internet alongside rumors of global cellular services, communication abilities, environmental data collection, interconnectivity, and so much more, Starlink has quite a bit of potential grandiose left to be squeezed. Plus, there’s always the past to replace and the future to discover. So, here’s how Starlink can go way beyond satellite internet.
Now, we’re going to start with the latest confirmed ability, which is GPS navigation. While you all likely know what GPS is, there is a bit more beneath the surface than what most understand.
Now operated by the US Space Force, the Global Positioning System is a satellite system owned by the US government. This mammoth 12-billion-dollar collection of 31 operating satellites and has an operating cost of 750 million dollars to provide precise location and time data.
Thanks to just how ubiquitous GPS is with geolocation, they’ve pretty much held a monopoly in global use. That’s due in part to an increase in global accuracy from five meters to just 30 centimeters. Nevertheless, the US government owns and operates it, letting the rest of the world use it.
So while there’s been a back-and-forth in technical prowess alongside competing programs over the years, GPS continues to pull ahead. Well, that might come to an end this decade. Or potentially even within a few years.
In a study named “Exploiting Starlink Signals for Navigation,” ironically funded by the United States Government, a group of research students revealed that they used Starlink to measure their location accurately. While that doesn’t necessarily sound too impressive upfront, it’s important to realize that they had accurate geolocation results from signals they’d eavesdropped on.
Three research students managed to get an accurate location within 7.7 meters using just six Starlink satellites, their locations, and their movements. Just think about that — zero access to SpaceX servers, Starlink satellites, the data traveling between them, or any connections to the satellites.
Using less than 0.4% of the active satellites in orbit, they managed to get geolocation results without any data. Even though Starlink wasn’t designed for navigational purposes, students without access to actual data worked to receive accurate results on a GPS request.