SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that the company has added laser crosslink technology to its newly launched polar orbiting Starlink satellites, and says that it will include crosslinks on all satellites to be launched from next year.
Pictures posted on Twitter of the new satellites, ten of which were launched by SpaceX on January 24, showed a series of black pipes on the spacecraft that users speculated could contain laser communication terminals for optical inter-satellite links.
This was confirmed by CEO Musk in a tweeted reply, adding that: “All sats launched next year will have laser links. Only our polar sats have lasers this year & are v0.9.”
The use of crosslinks is potentially critical for aspiring maritime users of the satellite service looking to be able to connect while far from shore. Previous Starlink satellites, which have already been used to provide internet services for customer beta testing, have required signals to be directly handed off to a ground station within view of the satellite – which could be an issue for deep sea users many miles from land.
Crosslinks solve that problem by passing the signal off to another satellite in the network, which can pass it off again until it reaches a satellite within sight of a ground station. Crosslink technology has already been in use in maritime for some time by Iridium and is part of the infrastructure for its current Certus communications service.
Starlink has now completed launches of more than 1,000 satellites in less than two years, with some 961 currently in orbit.