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Elon Musk's Kiwi Starlink connection

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 27 October 2020, 10:46 am

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has set up a New Zealand company with plans to us a Southland-based ground station to monitor his Starlink satellite constellation and to offer broadband services here.

SpaceX on Sunday (New Zealand time), launched a batch of 60 satellites as part of its Starlink network that the company intends to use to launch a global satellite broadband service that will target users in rural areas.

A SpaceX rocket carrying the satellites was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and is the 15th Starlink launch so far, with around 900 satellites now in low Earth orbit. 

Meanwhile, a BusinessDesk investigation has found that Musk is quietly laying the groundwork for a presence in New Zealand that could see it offer the satellite broadband service and use the Awarua satellite ground station near Invercargill to communicate with Starlink satellites covering the lower extremities of the planet.

A company called Starlink NZ, with three directors, has been set up and three trademarks had been applied for, though they were knocked back for being too similar to Subaru's Starlink in-car communications system, BusinessDesk reported.

Robin McNeill, who runs the Awarua satellite ground station, is listed as a director of Starlink, but wouldn't discuss Musk's plans, citing a non-disclosure agreement. Nevertheless, McNeill was clear in pointing out the benefits of international companies basing antennae at the site

"We have a big green flat paddock at the bottom of the world with 100 gigabits per second fibre-optic, electricity, generators, backup and technicians," he told BusinessDesk.

"It's flat as a pancake. We can see right to the horizon and there are no people, so no radio interference, and no radio users compared to the rest of the world. It's very easy to do frequency coordination."

Starlink wouldn't need to have a presence in New Zealand to offer its services, which will be offered as an online service and require a satellite receiver from the company to receive broadband from its satellites. Starlink plans to have 12,000 satellites in orbit to blanket the planet with coverage.

But BusinessDesk reported that Starlink NZ held multiple spectrum licences for satellite communications locally and was setting up internet gateway locations at Wellsford and Cromwell.

Not everyone is excited about Musk's satellite broadband plans. Visible in the night sky at times, as pinpricks of light in a line formation, astronomers have lambasted Starlink for the impact it will increasingly have on nighttime observations of the sky.

Dunedin-based astronomer and the director of Otago Museum, Dr Ian Griffin, describes the satellites as "celestial vermin".

"After seven launches, the 420 satellites at present in orbit are becoming annoyingly familiar sights during this stargazer's observing sessions," he wrote in the Otago Daily Times last week.


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