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SpaceX's Starlink internet satellites to connect with Google Cloud systems

A fleet of SpaceX Starlink internet satellites is seen poised for deployment in orbit in this image from a May 24, 2019 launch. SpaceX has teamed with Google Cloud for ground support of the massive megaconstellation.
A fleet of SpaceX Starlink internet satellites is seen poised for deployment in orbit in this image from a May 24, 2019 launch. SpaceX has teamed with Google Cloud for ground support of the massive megaconstellation. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX plans to build out its Starlink internet satellite constellation with the help of Google Cloud.

The two tech giants announced the collaboration Thursday (May 13) to provide data, cloud services and applications for enterprise Starlink customers at locations around the world, starting later in 2021. The value of the deal was not disclosed.

Major implications for the growing constellation of 1,500 orbiting Starlinks include SpaceX building ground stations in the same locations as Google data centers, and connecting Starlink satellites to existing Google Cloud infrastructure. SpaceX will install the first Starlink terminal at Google's New Albany, Ohio data center, a spokesperson told The Verge.

"Combining Starlink's high-speed, low-latency broadband with Google's infrastructure and capabilities provides global organizations with the secure and fast connection that modern organizations expect,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer, said in the statement

Related: SpaceX's Starlink satellite megaconstellation launches in photos 

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The collaboration also plans to bring in emerging cloud services – such as artificial intelligence and machine learning – to make decisions about what parts of a dataset should be sent to Earth; these computer services could reduce bandwidth needs. SpaceX's target market for customers are those who work in rural areas where Internet speed is often diminished. 

Google and SpaceX inked another major deal in 2015, when Google said it would spend $900 million on SpaceX "to support continued innovation in areas of space transport, reusability and satellite manufacturing," according to SpaceNews. For perspective, this was four years before the first Starlink launched in 2019, and before SpaceX had self-landing Falcon 9 rockets working in a bid to reduce launch costs.

One of Google's major competitors, Microsoft, also announced a deal with SpaceX and SES in October 2020 for cloud services. At the time, the companies said the pact would support Microsoft's Azure Space cloud business that operates from mobile data centers that can be deployed anywhere around the world. 

Cloud partnerships are by no means unusual in the space business, as companies seek to drive down the cost of delivering information to more and more remote areas. Amazon Web Services and Iridium Communications, for example, have a collaboration focused on the Internet of Things for connecting devices or objects (like shipping containers) to broadband services for tracking or communications.

While Starlink has an aim of providing broadband in traditionally underserved areas, astronomers are raising alarms about megaconstellations like it. The worry is the bright satellites could cause problems for scientific observations requiring wide-field surveys, such as hunting for potentially hazardous asteroids. SpaceX is experimenting with methods to reduce the brightness of individual Starlinks.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.