Technology

SpaceX Starlink will fly south for the primary time with its scheduled deployment in Texas

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Enlarge /. Starlink logo imposed on a stylized image of the earth.

SpaceX has agreed to offer Internet service to 45 families in a Texas school district in early 2021, and another 90 families later, the school district said last week. The announcement by the Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) in Odessa said it will be "the first school district to use SpaceX satellites to bring the Internet to students".

"The project will initially provide free internet service to 45 families in the Pleasant Farms area of ​​southern Ector County," the district said. "As the network capability continues to grow, it will expand to serve an additional 90 Ector County families."

The Texas location is noteworthy as the ongoing limited beta version of Starlink only exists in the northern US. According to Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, an upcoming public beta will only apply to the northern US and "hopefully" southern Canada. SpaceX has more than 700 Starlink satellites in orbit and can expand its service base by deploying more of the nearly 12,000 satellites it has been authorized to launch. In Washington state, Starlink has been used in rural homes, a remote tribe, and with emergency services and families in fire-affected areas.

The ECISD announcement said the service would start "early 2021" without saying exactly when, but an article in the American newspaper Odessa said it will be in January. The total cost of the project is $ 300,000, half of which will be provided by Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit group for school district leaders, said the Odessa-based American. Selected families will receive free internet service for a year, the report says.

It's not clear if the money goes to SpaceX. The school district has some cost as it plans to "identify the families (who will be cared for) and facilitate the delivery of the necessary equipment to these homes".

No word yet on other locations in the southern United States

The schedule for greater Starlink availability in the American South is not yet known. We asked SpaceX if it plans to deploy Starlink in a different southern location in early 2021 and for more information on when the service will be available in the US. We'll update this article as we get more information.

In August 2019, SpaceX put forward a plan in which each SpaceX launch of 60 satellites would deploy the satellites in "three different orbital planes" instead of just one, "to expedite the process of making satellites available for a larger area of ​​service." At that point, SpaceX announced to the FCC that this change would "potentially" allow broadband to be deployed in the southern United States in late 2020.

As ECISD pointed out, the pandemic has shown the importance of the home internet for students who need to study and complete assignments from home when in-person lessons are not available. Stories of children sitting outside of schools, libraries, and McDonald’s stores to use WiFi, either because their families cannot afford broadband or because it is simply not available where they live, are disappointing .

"When COVID-19 forced school buildings to close last spring, it became clear just how big the digital divide is in Ector County," said the ECISD's announcement. "When ECISD leaders conducted surveys of teachers, students and families, they found that 39 percent of families do not have internet access. SpaceX Starlink satellite technology will provide high-speed, low-latency broadband internet in an area in who can. The type of access is currently unavailable or affordable. "

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Steven Gregory