HITTERDAL, Minn. — SpaceX, a private company that is in the process of establishing the Starlink satellite network to provide low-cost internet service to remote locations around the globe, recently touted the Hitterdal, Minn., area as one of the test sites for the network's ground station technology.
During the Nov. 24 launch of a rocket to place satellites into low Earth orbit, SpaceX streamed a video that included a shoutout to the Hitterdal area, which is one of six new ground stations SpaceX has been using to test the satellite signal reception of Starlink's nascent broadband service.
In the video, the reference to the small town about 32 miles east of Fargo comes at about the 10-minute point.
In addition to Hitterdal, other new Starlink ground station testing sites include:
- Tionesta, Calif.
- Basley, Ga.
- Butte, Mont.
- Colburn, Idaho
- Robertsdale, Ala.
Eventually, SpaceX could have as many as 1 million ground stations worldwide as part of project Starlink.
So far, more than 800 satellites have been put into orbit as part of Starlink's network, and documents SpaceX filed with regulators reveal plans for thousands more.
The company has indicated it may ultimately have about 30,000 satellites in orbit, an ambitious plan given fewer than 3,000 artificial satellites now orbit the Earth and less than 10,000 have ever been launched.
SpaceX sent its first 60 Starlink satellites into orbit in May 2019.
Starlink's satellites operate about 340 miles above Earth, low enough that when they eventually succumb to atmospheric drag within a few years they won't become space junk.
The relatively low orbits also mean Starlink satellites can transmit large amounts of information rapidly to any point on the globe.
According to the video of the recent SpaceX launch, the Starlink service available in the Hitterdal area is limited. Communities such as Hitterdal and Hawley are covered by Starlink's service "cell," but other nearby towns, such as Lake Park, are outside the cell's service area.
SpaceX was given authority by the federal government to do early beta testing of its ground station in the Hitterdal area for 60 days starting in August and ending in late September. The company has since asked for an extension of that authority.
At this early stage of the network's development, to qualify for service customers have to live in the northern U.S. or southern Canada between 45 and 53 degrees latitude.
According to CNBC.com, participating households are charged $99 a month for internet service and a one-time fee of $499 for a satellite dish and router.
A SpaceX ground station in the town of Hitterdal is comprised of eight antennas, each of which is about 5 feet in diameter and located about 11 feet above the ground, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission.
Matt Jacobson, Clay County planning director, said county officials have not been approached by SpaceX.
Lynn Anderson, clerk/treasurer at Hitterdal, said no one from SpaceX has approached the city, either, regarding a ground station.
Jacobson said a new antenna array would normally require a permit, unless it was attached to an existing structure, such as a cell phone tower.