Starlink Satellites Mass Production Effect On Space Industry
So SpaceX is planning to produce tens of thousands of satellites (the last known digit is about 42 000 satellites) for LEO. Probably they don't want to produce very slowly during the next decade or more. We can't for sure say how much time they give to the full constellation to be unfolded but let's guess it's no more than 5 years. 5 years will probably be time for replacing old satellites with new ones. So we can assume they will be producing about 8 thousand satellites per year. It's quite a lot per year and will have very nice consequences on the space industry economics. Let's elaborate.
Starlink satellite probably has such space-related elements on its board:
- Ion thrusters
- Navigation system
- Space grade solar panels
- Central computer
- Space dedicated operating system
All of them are quite costly when made for common satellites because of a tiny production volume. It has a lot of tradeoffs basically in terms of price, flexibility, and time to produce. Current space equipment is made with a focus on reliability. Others factors are not so important to some extent.
Mass production of those components totally changes the paradigm of their production and use. So:
SpaceX decided to use Krypton in satellites thruster instead of Xenon because Xenon is more costly. Krypton price is about 0.5 USD per liter while Xenon price is about 10.00 USD per liter. Here someone calculated how much Krypton Starlink satellite will probably need for its orbital maneuvers - 4.8 kg or 12 liters. If his calculations are correct then Krypton fuel will cost 6 USD for one satellite. Xenon fuel would cost 120 USD for one satellite. Take a notice - even a 114 USD difference in fuel cost appeared quite important for SpaceX for one satellite to choose Krypton.