Elon Musk’s SpaceX has established a Starlink satellite base on the Isle of Man


SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk poses on the red carpet for the Axel Springer award ceremony on December 1, 2020 in Berlin.

Britta Pedersen | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON – Starlink, the space internet service founded in 2015 by Elon Musk’s space company SpaceX, has set up a “ground station” on a tiny self-governing island in the Irish Sea to broadcast the internet from satellites in low-earth orbit homes and offices.

Starlink’s Isle of Man ground station, first reported by The Telegraph late last month, can be viewed on the Starlink.sx website.

The Isle of Man government said Starlink worked with local communications provider BlueWave, adding that the two together licensed some of the island’s available spectrum.

BlueWave has a ground station just outside the capital, Douglas, which can be seen on Google Maps. It acquired the location from SES Satellite Leasing last year. SES left the Isle of Man last summer.

The site has between four and eight radomes, according to a local source who works in the satellite industry and wants to remain anonymous as they are not allowed to speak about the matter. These are structural, weatherproof enclosures that protect a radar antenna that sends and receives data transmissions.

“There’s an almost new unoccupied base station array here that is directly tied to data centers,” said another source, who works in the Isle of Man tech industry, who wanted to remain anonymous as she wasn’t directly involved in the Starlink project is. The source added that it “has an excellent horizon scan because because it is surrounded by sea it means nothing gets in the way”.

At 32 miles long and 21 miles wide, the Isle of Man is a British crown dependence located in the middle of the Irish Sea roughly equidistant from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Starlink already has bases in Buckinghamshire and Cornwall, England, and the base in the Isle of Man will enable the company to provide full internet coverage across the UK.

The island’s location, spectrum and existing satellite infrastructure all contributed to Starlink’s decision, according to both CNBC sources.

The first source to receive a Starlink kit in May said the island has a “very efficient” telecommunications regulator that is quick to issue relatively cheap licenses.

“Then of course the Isle of Man is a low-tax area, well [there is] very little overhead, “they added.” Also, the nation has an adequacy agreement with the EU for GDPR compliance. All of this makes the island a good place for satellite or data-related services. “The GDPR is a set of data protection and data protection regulations that were introduced by the European Union in May 2018.

The island also has its own frequency bands that are less busy than the UK. the Isle of Man has only 85,000 inhabitants while the United Kingdom has about 70 million inhabitants.

The Isle of Man’s communications and utilities regulator confirmed to CNBC Thursday that Starlink and Bluewave had been granted a license to “provide services and locate related devices on the island”.

A spokesman for the island’s Department of Commerce told CNBC, “This is very exciting and positive news for the island that will enable the use of satellite broadband services on the island and beyond.”

They added, “At the local level, licensing the spectrum available will give local consumers more choice and potential for additional jobs in the island’s telecommunications sector.”

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment, while BlueWave declined to comment.

What is Starlink?

Ultimately, Starlink wants to bring faster internet to the world by first improving internet access in parts of the world that are not currently served by broadband providers.

It allows people to connect to the internet through a satellite dish placed on or near a person’s property. The internet is broadcast to the dish via a network of Starlink satellites put into orbit by SpaceX and ground stations.

The company has announced that it will spend $ 10 billion to launch 12,000 small satellites into low-earth orbit that can broadcast high-speed Internet to the ground with low latency. To date, 1,700 customers have been launched and the service is used by 90,000 customers in 12 countries.

“You can expect to need many ground stations in many locations to ensure uninterrupted coverage,” Craig Moffett, an analyst with research firm MoffettNathanson, told CNBC.

“The satellites are not yet equipped with fiber optic links, so they have to be in constant contact with the ground for the time being. That requires an enormous number of ground stations,” said Moffett.