spacex’s-starlink-reveals-new-smaller,-rectangular-user-dish-to-connect-to-satellites

SpaceX’s internet-from-space initiative Starlink has unveiled a new rectangular dish that interested customers can buy to tap into the company’s growing satellite constellation in low Earth orbit. It’s a thinner and lighter weight option than the circular dish that Starlink beta users have been testing over the last year.

Starlink is SpaceX’s satellite internet project, which aims to launch nearly 12,000 satellites into low Earth orbit where they can provide broadband internet coverage to people on the ground — notably those in remote and rural areas where traditional internet infrastructure is lacking. With so many satellites in low orbit at once, the idea is to have at least one satellite in view over every patch of the Earth, providing near continuous internet coverage to users. In order to tap into the system, users need to mount a dish somewhere near their home, like the roof, where they can get a clear view of the sky (free of trees) at all times.

SpaceX launched the beta version of Starlink in October 2020, allowing users in certain geographical areas of the US to purchase the company’s starter kit, which included a 23-inch-wide circular user terminal — or dish — mounting equipment, a Wi-Fi router, and all the cables one would need. The buy-in cost was $499 for the kit and then $99 a month for coverage. Now, users have the option to buy this new rectangular dish instead, which is just 12 inches wide and 19 inches long. At 9.2 pounds, it’s nearly half the weight of the original 16-pound dish. However, the price to buy the rectangular option appears unchanged.

SpaceX had filed a new application with the Federal Communications Commission for a smaller dish, which just received approval yesterday. The 12-inch width notably matches the diameter of the antenna that rival internet satellite initiative, Project Kuiper, is hoping to build. When it unveiled its antenna, Project Kuiper claimed that it would reduce the overall cost of making the equipment. In August, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell argued that SpaceX’s new dishes would be much more cost effective.

“The ones we will have later this year will cost roughly half of what our current user terminals cost,” Shotwell said during a discussion at Space Symposium, an annual space conference, according to PCMag. “And then we think we’ll be able to cut that in half yet again.” Originally, the Starlink dishes cost $3,000 each for SpaceX to build, meaning the company was selling to users at a loss. However, Shotwell claimed in April that SpaceX was able to reduce that number to around $1,300.

Comparisons between the two antennas on Starlink’s website
Image: SpaceX / Starlink

The company’s website notes that the rectangular dish comes with a new 3 x 3, MU-MIMO router, which does not come with a built-in ethernet port like its predecessor. SpaceX is offering an ethernet adapter for purchase, however, for those looking to hook up their devices via cables.

Additionally, those buying the rectangular dish seem to have more accessory options when mounting the equipment to their house. A new installation guide shows new types of poles that attach to the sides of housing, and even a long vertical pole that users can simply stick into the ground of their yards. The dish accessory guide notes that this option “requires digging.”

Starlink claims that “the rectangular Starlink is currently available for all new orders fulfilled in the United States.” However, it might be a while before customers actually see their dishes. After first accepting preorders in February, Starlink has steadily grown its user base, with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk claiming in June that the program had 69,420 active users. He also predicted that Starlink would have 500,000 users in the next 12 months. But users have recently complained that tinkering with their addresses in Starlink’s online map tool leads to serious delays in their shipments. Additionally, Starlink states on its website that “silicon shortages have delayed production which has impacted our ability to fulfill orders.”

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