SpaceX's Starlink Broadband Service Will Begin in 2020: Report

A view of SpaceX's first 60 Starlink satellites in orbit, still attached and awaiting deployment, after their launch on May 23, 2019.
A view of SpaceX's first 60 Starlink satellites in orbit, still attached and awaiting deployment, after their launch on May 23, 2019. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX, the private spaceflight company known for reusable rockets and a giant, shiny Starship (opens in new tab), will begin offering its own satellite internet service in 2020, according to SpaceNews (opens in new tab). In fact, the U.S. Air Force is already testing it in planes.

To build the service, SpaceX will have to launch up to eight Falcon 9 rockets filled with the company's Starlink satellites, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell told SpaceNews and other reporters this week at the 70th International Astronautical Congress in Washington.

"We'll continue to upgrade the network until mid to late next year," SpaceNews' Jeff Foust quoted Shotwell as saying (opens in new tab) during a media roundtable on Tuesday (Oct. 22). "We're hoping for 24 launches by the end of the year."

Video: Watch SpaceX Deploy 60 Starlink Satellites at Once (opens in new tab)
SpaceX's 1st Starlink Megaconstellation Launch in Photos!

SpaceX launched the first Starlink mission, a Falcon 9 carrying 60 satellites, on May 23 to lay the foundation for a satellite constellation that will ultimately number in the tens of thousands. Another 60 are slated to launch next month. 

This week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk used the Starlink system to send a tweet (opens in new tab) for the first time. 

"Whoa, it worked!" Musk wrote in the tweet on Tuesday. Musk used a Starlink terminal in his home to send the tweet. Eventually, Starlink customers will receive a box from SpaceX to access the network, SpaceNews reported. 

"Knowing Elon, he wants everything to be beautiful. So the user terminal will be beautiful," Shotwell said Tuesday according to SpaceNews (opens in new tab).

Musk has said SpaceX will need at least 400 Starlink satellites in orbit for "minor" broadband coverage, and 800 satellites aloft for "moderate" coverage. The initial Starlink plan called for a megaconstellation of 12,000 satellites, and SpaceX recenty filed paperwork with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to launch another 30,000 satellites. The ITU is a United Nations agency that manages the global satellite radio-frequency spectrum, among other things.

Related: Space Companies Are Investing Big in 5G Technology

Ultimately, SpaceX may not need so many satellites in orbit for global coverage. But having them available will allow SpaceX to use some satellites for customized service, Shotwell said, according to SpaceNews. 

One of those potential customers may be the U.S. military. 

The U.S. Air Force is testing SpaceX's Starlink technology in military aircraft under a program called Global Lightning, Reuters (opens in new tab)and SpaceNews reported (opens in new tab). The project, which  is part of a $28 million contract SpaceX won from the Pentagon last year, is testing encrypted military communications via Starlink terminals in a C-12 military transport aircraft, Reuters reported (opens in new tab)

"We are delivering high bandwidth into the cockpit of Air Force planes," Reuters' Joey Roulette quoted Shotwell as saying (opens in new tab) Tuesday. 

SpaceX is not the only company pursuing satellite broadband services. The companies OneWeb, Telesat and Amazon have announced plans for megaconstellations of their own, but none as large as SpaceX's Starlink network.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award (opens in new tab) for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast (opens in new tab) with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network (opens in new tab). To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik (opens in new tab).