SpaceX Is Testing Out Starlink Internet in Antartica

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off with a payload of the 29th batch of approximately 60 satellites for SpaceX's Starlink broadband network from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

Starlink satellites hitch a ride to low Earth orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.
Photo: John Raoux (AP)

Starlink has made its way to the southernmost continent, beaming down broadband internet to a research center in Antarctica. McMurdo Station, a research outpost run by the US Antarctic Program, is testing out a Starlink terminal to enhance its connectivity.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds the program, announced the recent development this week on Twitter, “NSF-supported USAP scientists in #Antarctica are over the moon! Starlink is testing polar service with a newly deployed user terminal at McMurdo Station, increasing bandwidth and connectivity for science support.”

McMurdo Station conducts scientific research on geology, astrophysics, and climate systems, among other things. The research center hosts close to 1,000 people during Antarctica’s summer season, which runs from October to February, according to NSF. The center’s internet connectivity has been a little spotty. McMurdo already relies on internet satellite from a traditional provider, but the weak connection severely limits people’s online activity.

Enter SpaceX, the company building a megaconstellation of internet satellites in low Earth orbit while vowing to bring connectivity to the most remote parts of the world. SpaceX has 3,023 satellites currently in orbit and plans to deploy upwards of 42,000 satellites.

But to reach Antarctica, SpaceX had to rely on space lasers for the challenging task. “Starlink is now on all seven continents!” SpaceX wrote on Twitter. “In such a remote location as Antarctica, this capability is enabled by Starlink’s space laser network.” Among its thousands of satellites in orbit, there is a batch of Starlinks equipped with lasers designed to relay broadband signals. Rather than delivering data between Earth and space, the space lasers will route data around the constellation, from one satellite to the other. Space lasers not only sound so much cooler, but they also require fewer ground stations to operate. And they come in handy remote regions like Antarctica, since there are fewer areas to send the signal back to from space.

Although it has not built its full satellite constellation yet, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is already expanding its network. The company recently announced that it can now beam connectivity to vehicles in motion, including semitrucks and RVs, planes, and boats. In April, Starlink announced its first partnership with a major airline, Hawaiian Airlines, to provide in-flight Wi-Fi for free. Delta Airlines also started testing out Starlink internet on board its flights.

More: Starlink Internet Was Down, and Is Still a Little Spotty

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