SpaceX’s Starlink internet offering is very slowly taking shape. The network of high-flying satellites is going to take a long time to fully build out, but with over 1,300 of the tiny spacecraft currently orbiting Earth, plenty of beta testers have already signed up to be the first onboard. The company had remained largely quiet when it comes to the total number of sign-ups for the service so far, but that recently changed. As Reuters reports, SpaceX boss Elon Musk revealed on Tuesday that over 500,000 people had already placed their $99 deposits for Starlink internet service.
The deposits, which are fully refundable in the event that the individual decides they don’t want the service, or if SpaceX can’t provide service, will get you a spot in line to receive Starlink when SpaceX is ready to add more customers. It’s unclear exactly how many customers the current Starlink network can support, but Musk took to Twitter to offer his opinion.
In a reply to a tweet about the initial report of 500,000 Starlink orders, Musk noted that Starlink does face some limitations at the moment. Of note, individuals that want the service but are located in congested urban areas may find the speeds lacking, and Space may ultimately decide it can’t add more customers in certain areas until it boosts its network of satellites further.
“Only limitation is high density of users in urban areas,” Musk tweeted. “Most likely, all of the initial 500k will receive service. More of a challenge when we get into the several million user range.”
Only limitation is high density of users in urban areas. Most likely, all of the initial 500k will receive service. More of a challenge when we get into the several million user range.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 4, 2021
The Starlink satellite network is designed to be a grid that circles the globe. The idea is that if a person needs internet service, the massive grid ensures that satellites can deliver access to the network. However, with only a tiny fraction of the total number of planned satellites in orbit right now, a bunch of users in a small area could cause problems from a bandwidth standpoint. That’s understandable, and the service is in beta after all, but it will require some delicate balancing on SpaceX’s part to make sure it can bring new customers on board without causing problems for existing users.
The company currently has permission to offer its service in North America but eventually wants to roll out Starlink in as many countries as it can. To do that, it’ll need to boost its 1,300 satellites with many thousands more. SpaceX has permission to launch up to 12,000 satellites as soon as it can, but that’s not enough for the company’s grand ambitions. It’s also seeking permission to launch an additional 30,000 Starlink satellites once it reaches the 12,000-satellite mark.
It’ll be incredibly interesting to see how rapidly SpaceX can roll out the service and at what point it decides to end the beta test and begin offering Starlink to everyone. It’s obviously not there yet, but how much longer will the company wait?