A Starlink beta user in Arizona said he lost Internet service for more than seven hours yesterday when the satellite overheated, highlighting one of the weaknesses of SpaceX’s radio service. When a user’s Internet service is interrupted, the Starlink app provides an error message that says, “Offline: Thermal Shutdown.” The satellite is “too hot” and “Starlink will reconnect after cooling down,” the error message said.
The user, named Martin, posted a screenshot of the error message on reddit. He contacted Starlink support, which told him, “Dishy will go into thermal shutdown at 122F and will restart when it reaches 104F.” Martin decided to give the dish some water to cool it down. He pointed to the sprinkler at Dishy, and as soon as it was cool enough to turn it on, “I immediately heard YouTube start playing,” he wrote yesterday.
But the Internet’s recovery is temporary, Martin told Ars in a chat today.
“The fix is temporary,” he told us. “When I stop the sprinkler, (dish) heat back and will wheel back on for a few minutes and go back down for the hot shutdown. The overheating started the day about 11:30 in the morning and came back for about 7 p.m. .. I am currently going to a hardware store to get materials to build a solar shade/boat around the dish to see if it doesn’t affect the connection and speed.”
Martin uses the ground behind his house to set up his dish because it is the only place where there are no obstacles. But there is “no shade to tell,” he wrote in a Reddit comment.
Thermal shutdowns affect other users
Officially, SpaceX has said that the “Dishy McFlatface” is certified to operate from 22° below zero up to 104° Fahrenheit. Temperatures reached about 120° yesterday in Martin’s town of Topock, near Arizona’s border with California, he said. Even though the Dishy doesn’t go into thermal shutdown until it reaches 122°, the dish can obviously be hotter than the air temperature.
“I think that the radiating heat from the ground is actually cooking the bottom of the dish, (while) the top of the dish is cooked by the sun,” Martin told Ars. In addition to the shelter he’s building, Martin said he’s “waiting for space for a HAM radio tower” that will lift the dish off the ground to help keep it cool enough to operate.
Martin said he still had very short outages on several days from last week, but work came back before he had time to confirm whether the heat caused them. SpaceX told users to expect periodic outages during the beta, so Martin’s previous outages may have been due to heat or satellite availability.
Another user in Virginia experienced a half-hour outage due to heat on a day with temperatures in the low 80s, according to a Reddit post two months ago.
Martin’s post contributed to a response from a beta user who also reported thermal locks. “You are not the only one. My Starlink is 50 km south of the Grand Canyon in a remote area,” one person wrote yesterday. “It has been off and on again. It stopped today an hour after a good rest period but stopped again about (at) ~12:30. The last reported temperature at my weather station was 103 degrees. “
A shutdown temperature of 122°F was mentioned three weeks ago in a Reddit post by a user who has also given the number through Starlink support. “‘That’s it??’ in my opinion. On a 90 degree day, my roof can be around 125 degrees,” the user wrote.
“Are you sure it’s not Celsius?” another asked. (122°C converts to 251.6°F.)
Like Martin, other Starlink users may have to find creative ways to keep their meals cool as the summer months arrive.
Dishy’s heat management
As we wrote in December, the breakdown of the Dishy McFlatface reveals some of its heat management components, including a metal shield that is peppered with blue dots made of heat-dissipating material that removes heat from the PCB and into the rock.
Ken Keiter, the engineer who did the teardown, was asked by the deputy’s motherboard part for him a story about Arizona residents today:
Keiter told Motherboard that while thoughtful consideration is given to heat dissipation in Dishy’s design, it can see the potential for problems.
“A phase-locking assembly is a PCBA (printed circuit board assembly) attached to an aluminum backing that serves several purposes—acting as RF shielding, providing structural rigidity and, most importantly, acting as a radiative heat sink ( heat sink) for components on the PCBA,” Keiter said.
Heat is funneled from the circuit board to the aluminum backplate using a foam-like thermal interface material (TIM). The backpack itself resides in a weather-sealed cavity with a small amount of air. As this back design heats up, the air around it also heats up, transferring heat energy through the plastic enclosure to the outside environment, Keiter said.
“Here’s the problem: at one point, the combined heat energy received by Dishy’s face and dumped by the components into the back pocket, the air around it, and the storage is more than the amount of we have been allocated to the outside area,” he said. perceive.
Keiter said that the software changes could “make the system work better thermally” but that SpaceX would likely need to do “a major hardware overhaul for a commercial launch.” He called it “a really tricky technical problem with some crazy wear restrictions.”
We contacted SpaceX today and will update this article if we hear back.
SpaceX is looking for stability before going out of beta
Starlink’s public beta begins in October 2020, and there’s no word on when it will officially become commercially available. But the work could happen within months, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that Starlink will come to “most of Earth” by the end of 2021 and the whole world next year. However, SpaceX expects to have a limited number of slots in each region due to energy constraints.
SpaceX is seeking Federal Communications Commission permission to deploy up to 5 million user terminals in the US. Over 500,000 people have ordered Starlink, and Musk has said he expects all of those users to get a job. But he also said that SpaceX will face “more of a challenge when we get into many millions of users.” The greatest limitation will be in densely populated urban areas; rural users will have better chances to get a job.
As previously noted, Starlink warns beta users to expect “short periods of no connectivity at all”—even if they don’t run into thermal shutdowns. “We still have a lot of work to do to make the network reliable,” SpaceX CEO and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in April. “We still have drops, not necessarily just because of where the satellites are in the sky.” SpaceX will keep the project in beta “until the network is reliable and big and something we’re going to be proud of,” Shotwell said.
The Verge Starlink review last month and found frustrating reliability problems. “Like most mmWave 5G, Starlink is incredibly sensitive. Even a only wood blocking the dish’s line of sight to the atmosphere will reduce and stop your Starlink signal,” the Verge wrote.
Starlink is only part of the solution
The service will certainly become more stable by the time SpaceX moves it from beta to general availability, as Shotwell promised. Even in beta, Starlink provides much-needed connectivity to people who have no other options. If SpaceX brings reliable bandwidth to a few million users, that would be an achievement, but it could come tens of millions of Americans without access to high-speed broadband. Thousands of other millions have to pay whatever the cable company asks because there is no competition where they live.
Expanded fiber-to-the-home deployment will make a big difference for more Internet users than Starlink. President Joe Biden pledged to lower costs and bring “future-proof” broadband to all Americans, but he has already scaled back his plan in the face of opposition from Republicans and incumbent ISPs. . AT&T has been lobbying against nationwide broadband and funding for urban networks, and AT&T CEO John Stankey expressed confidence last week that Congress will steer legislation in a direction that AT&T favors.