New images found within the code of SpaceX’s Starlink website show the official look of the company’s future user satellite terminals — the antennas that customers will use to tap into the massive internet-from-space satellite constellation that SpaceX is building. The white disc-shaped device does indeed look like a “UFO on a stick” as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk once described.
Musk seemingly confirmed that the images of the user terminals were real on Twitter after replying to a user who had posted the pictures. “Starlink terminal has motors to self-orient for optimal view angle,” he said. “No expert installer required.” He also noted that the design of the terminal had changed slightly. The “latch on post near base” is no longer there, he said, and the Ethernet wire seen protruding from the stand is “less obtrusive” in the final version SpaceX will sell to customers. However, the images do largely line up with pictures of the terminals that had leaked on Reddit in June.
SpaceX didn’t respond to an official request for comment.
These user terminals are a critical part of SpaceX’s Starlink initiative, which aims to provide global internet coverage from space. The company has permission from the Federal Communications Commission to put nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites into orbit around Earth, a swarm of spacecraft that would cover the globe and beam broadband internet connectivity to the surface below. To tap into the satellite system, customers will need to purchase these small “UFOs” to receive broadband signals from the satellites and connect to the internet.
So far, SpaceX has put nearly 600 Starlink satellites into orbit. However, Musk has claimed before that SpaceX only needs 400 satellites to provide “initial operational capability” and then 800 satellites to achieve “significant operational capabilities.” SpaceX has been launching its Starlink satellites in batches of 60 or so spacecraft, with another launch planned in the coming days or weeks.
Meanwhile, SpaceX is on the cusp of rolling out the beta version of Starlink, which would allow early approved users to test out an early version of the system. In June, SpaceX updated its Starlink website, allowing interested potential customers to sign up to receive updates about the program and learn about availability in their area. When people provided their ZIP code and contact information, they received an email from SpaceX saying that private beta testing is expected to begin “later this summer,” followed by public beta testing for those in high altitudes.
Now, we have even more details about how that private beta program would work, thanks to further sleuthing into the code on the Starlink website. One Reddit user /u/Bubby4j found the “terms of service” for the private beta program as well as an FAQ page for early users. The Verge confirmed that the text and images were available but hidden on the Starlink website. The code revealed that SpaceX plans to provide beta testers with a “Starlink kit,” which would consist of one of the Starlink dish terminals, a Wi-Fi router, a power supply, and mounts for the system. Users will have to install the terminal themselves, putting it somewhere with a “clear view of the northern sky.” The code revealed a PDF for the installation guide, but it’s blank for now.
By accepting the kit, users must agree to test out the Starlink system between 30 minutes to an hour each day and provide feedback to SpaceX about their experiences. They also have to agree to keep their experience confidential. “You may NOT discuss your participation in the Beta Program online or with those outside of your household, unless they are SpaceX employees,” the website states.
The FAQ page revealed even more details about what users could expect and how to use their terminals. SpaceX claimed that the beta program will begin in the northern United States and southern Canada, starting with those living in rural communities in Washington state. Beta testers won’t have to pay for their terminals, though they’ll be charged a $1 fee in order to test out SpaceX’s billing system. The company also noted that internet connectivity may not be so smooth at first.
“During Starlink Beta, service will be intermittent as teams work to optimize the network,” SpaceX says on the website. “When connected, your service quality will be high, but your connection will not be consistent. This means it may support streaming video with some buffering, but likely is not suitable for gaming or work purposes.”
Seeing as how all of this information comes from the Starlink website’s code, it’s possible this information could change. In the meantime, users who did sign up for updates on the Starlink website recently received emails asking for their addresses, in order for SpaceX to improve its “ability to provide location specific updates as our network develops.”