Just a week after news broke that SpaceX provided Starlink internet service to the Emergency Management Department of Washington State, the state announced that SpaceX’s satellites benefit the Native American Hoh Tribe as well.
On October 6th, SpaceX’s 12th batch of operational Starlink satellites and 13th mission overall were successfully launched by the Falcon 9 rocket. If all 60 Starlink-12 satellites hit their 550 km (~340 mi) orbits and several previous lots, CEO Elon Musk says SpaceX will be able to start carrying out “a fairly wide public beta in [the] northern US [and southern Canada].” However, SpaceX already has enough Starlink satellites in operational orbits to start seriously testing the space-based internet network through a series of private betas.
Although mainly focusing on those within the general circle of SpaceX (employees, families, company facilities, etc.), the organization has started to highlight early trials with the types of clients and populations for which the constellation is ideal. Washington’s Emergency Management Division revealed on September 28th that SpaceX had provided at least seven Starlink user terminals with free unlimited internet service (for now). The division quickly deployed the capability to at least one Washington area hit hard by summer wildfires in August, offering residents some sort of communication.
Interviewed by CNBC, Richard Hall, head of emergency telecommunications at the Washington State Military Department, praised the nascent satellite internet of SpaceX, noting that “I have never set up any tactical satellite equipment that has been as quick to set up, and anywhere near as reliable” and that “there’s really no comparison” between Starlink and alternatives.
Now, with the aid of SpaceX and inspired by the accomplishments of the Washington State Military, the Broadband Office of the Washington State Department of Commerce has deployed Starlink terminals at the Hoh Tribe Reserve in Forks, WA. Remote and rural, Hoh Tribe Vice Chairman Melvinjohn Ashue described attempting to work with the current communications infrastructure like “paddling up-river with a spoon” until Starlink’s introduction.
Ashue was at least as effusive as Hall, frankly stating that “it seemed like out of nowhere, SpaceX came up and just catapulted [the Hoh Tribe] into the 21st century.”
“And it seemed like out of nowhere SpaceX came up and just catapulted us into the 21st century. Our youth are able to do education online and participate in videos. Telehealth is no longer going to be an issue, as well as telemental health.
The Hoh Tribe is not alone. Many people in rural parts of [Washington] don’t have high-speed internet connectivity, but we’re changing that. We’re helping create partnerships and find resources so every community in our state can access this critical bridge to jobs, education, healthcare and so much more.”
–Hoh Tribe Vice Chairman Melvinjohn Ashue
Ultimately, the praise of Ashue helps illustrate Starlink’s value. While given enough time and resources, SpaceX will assuredly serve Starlink internet to almost anyone on Earth, the company continues to reiterate that the current objective of the constellation is to help connect hundreds of millions of people around the world with poor service or no connectivity. Ashue states that for online education, all sorts of digital healthcare facilities, careers, and more, a high-quality internet connection can be used, apart from the obvious advantages of merely being linked at all (entertainment, social enrichment, a near-infinite pool of information, and more).
The Starlink program of SpaceX will continue to flourish and expand with a little luck, ensuring that life-changing connectivity becomes the rule, rather than an anomaly, for emergency response personnel, rural Americans, Native Americans, and everyone else on Earth forced to compromise for overpriced mediocrity or nothing at all.
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