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China launches comms satellite, SpaceX launches 60

2021 is off to a flying start for satellite communications, with China launching the third satellite in its Tiantong-1 series and Elon Musk’s SpaceX sending its latest batch of Starlink satellites into orbit.

The Tiantong 1-03 satellite was launched earlier this week from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The satellite will establish a mobile network with ground facilities to provide the usual mobile communications services – voice, SMS and data – for user in and around China, also covering the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

A further sign, if one were needed, of the growing importance of satellite connectivity in spreading communications technologies and Internet access around the world, in both developed markets and difficult-to-reach areas, came with the announcement from SpaceX that 60 more Starlink satellites are on their way into orbit. The firm’s 17th Starlink mission departed from Florida on Wednesday via a Falcon 9 rocket.

We lost count of the actual number of Starlink satellites now in space, but there are north of 1,000. In all, the company has secured permission from the FCC to launch 12,000 satellites in phase one of its deployment. It is picking up spectrum rights in various markets and, according to press reports, launched the beta version of its satellite broadband service in the UK earlier this month.

The service, known as Better than Nothing Beta, is focused on rural and remote areas in the US, Canada and the UK where there is no easy access to fibre or cable, CNBC quoted SpaceX lead manufacturing engineer Jessie Anderson as saying.

Satellite certainly fits the bill for customers for whom the alternative really is nothing, but the acid test will be whether it can become a technology of choice for those who have, well, a choice.


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