Elon Musk’s Space X Starlink satellites Internet boon for firefighters working in wildfire-hit rural Washington

Faye Kyzer

Internet services provided by Space X’s Starlink satellites orbiting the Earth have reached the rural parts of Washington. The company’s Internet-from-space initiative has helped first responders connect and coordinate their firefighting efforts in the affected regions.

In early August, the Washington Emergency Management Division deployed Starlink user terminals which are small devices that connect to the satellites orbiting in low Earth orbit. Two regions in the state received the services. Elon Musk, the founder of the company, said in a tweet that SpaceX is prioritizing catering to emergency responders and locations with no Internet connectivity.




With Starlink, Space X aims to set up a constellation of 12,000 satellites, providing Internet to the remotest regions of the world. The company has put more than 700 satellites in the orbit. They hope to launch 60 more on Friday, October 2, 2020. Beta testing of their satellites by employees has taken off. “We are checking how fast data travels from the satellites to our customers, and then back to the rest of the internet. Initial results have been good,” Kate Tice, a senior program reliability engineer at SpaceX, said during the launch broadcast earlier in September.

(Getty Images)


Space X is also keen on getting the public to participate in beta testing which is set to begin in those living in rural communities in Washington state. “What happened is that they happened to have satellites that could reach our area,” Steven Friedrich, a spokesperson for the Washington Emergency Management Division, told The Verge. Of the two user terminals providing Internet to the Washington Emergency Management Division, one is near Washington’s Madden, and the other near the Sumner-Grade Wildfire, located in the western part of the state. “Without the terminal, the internet would be nearly impossible to achieve” near the Malden area, according to Friedrich.

Reports have shown that wildfires have ravaged 80% of homes and buildings in Malden. The Sumner Grade Fire in Pierce County scorched 500 acres, destroying eight structures two weeks ago. “My understanding is this is the first [public] use of Starlink, and the partnership their technical experts have had with our team in the state [Emergency Operations Center] has been invaluable,” Friedrich said.

Authorities have words of praise for the Internet services provided by Starlink satellites. “I have never set up any tactical satellite equipment that has been as quick to set up, and anywhere near as reliable as Starlink,” Richard Hall, the emergency telecommunications leader of the Washington State Military Department’s IT division, told CNBC in an interview. “Starlink easily doubles the bandwidth” in comparison, Hall said, noting that he’s seen more than 150% decreases in latency — the delay in repsonse. “I’ve seen lower than 30-millisecond latency consistently,” he said. “I even did set up to allow kids to do some of their initial schoolings too because they were pressing forward with some limited presence slowly. We covered a whole lot of bases,” Hall said. “Starlink changes the game as far as what’s available.”

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