New photos appear to show Elon Musk's 'UFO on a stick' device that will connect users to SpaceX's fleet of Starlink internet satellites

A number of bottom left and bottom right user terminals that SpaceX may use to test its Internetlink Starlink satellite fleet.
Courtesy of darkpenguin22 (via Reddit)
A Reddit user appears to have released the first clear photos of ground devices that connect to the SpaceX fleet of Internetlink Starlink satellites.
The person said she drove past the SpaceX location near Merrillan, Wisconsin and photographed the antennas with a large telephoto lens.
The devices closely match previous descriptions by Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX. A label on the antennas also describes the hardware as a prototype and property of SpaceX.
Although Musk said that Starlink SpaceX could ultimately generate tens of billions of dollars a year, he recently said that reducing the cost of subscriber antennas, known as user terminals, could be the project's biggest hurdle.
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A SpaceX fan who lives near Merrillan, Wisconsin has apparently seen the future of the aerospace company on a rural gravel property opposite rows of corn.
The photos published by Reddit user Darkpenguin22 on Saturday may be the clearest images of ground antennas that SpaceX has described in the federal filings submitted for Starlink: a growing fleet of Internet-beam satellites that hit Earth before the end of the year tens of thousands could orbit the decade.
If Starlink turns out to be as described by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the aerospace company can make tens of billions of dollars a year by bringing people online from almost anywhere on the earth's surface with high-speed internet with little delay.
While SpaceX has released numerous photos and videos of its approximately 570-pound desk-size satellites, the company has yet to release any of its Starlink flooring hardware.
SpaceX did not respond to Business Insider's request for comments on the images and their content. However, the images appear to show authentic prototypes that can communicate with flying Starlink satellites. The site also agrees with satellite imagery for a SpaceX test site in a Federal Communications Commission release on April 29. An enlarged view of the label on the devices indicates that the units are prototypes and SpaceX property.
The images, re-published here with permission, were taken from a distance using a high-performance telephoto lens. They show two types of apparent Starlink antennas: a bulbous white radome about 5 feet in diameter, which protects the electronics of the ground station inside, and a much smaller and slimmer user terminal, which Musk has called the "UFO on a stick".
A user terminal that SpaceX may use to test Internet connections with its Starlink satellites.
Courtesy of darkpenguin22 (via Reddit)
There have been previous sightings of apparent Starlink prototype ground devices - for example in Boca Chica, Texas, where SpaceX is developing its new Starship launch system - but the new images show the hardware most clearly.
"I happen to live nearby, so it was an easy way to contribute to the community to take some pictures myself," said Darkpenguin22, who asked for anonymity to protect his privacy, Business Insider said in a message . "I have been a SpaceX and Tesla fan for many years and work as a system administrator in IT. That is why I followed Starlink's developments closely for both personal and professional / business purposes."
The person added: "Could potentially become a very competitive alternative for company site-to-site links, at least in less populous parts of the country / the world. I also see this as a key to efficient remote working for those of us who they prefer a more rural lifestyle. "
A "UFO on a stick" revealed
A user terminal that SpaceX may be using.
Courtesy of darkpenguin22 (via Reddit)
In its earliest phase, SpaceX plans to launch nearly 1,600 Starlink satellites approximately 340 miles above the Earth. To this end, the company has launched 62 experimental and 480 operational satellites into space - although it is trying to send a new batch of about 60 satellites approximately every two weeks.
Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX, told Irene Klotz of Aviation Week in May that the company would "serve the service in a more public way after launching more than 800 spacecraft that the company will be on track to achieve." and introduce way "will fall.
The first phase of satellites will orbit about 64 times closer than a typical internet-radiating satellite, so they might be able to provide an almost instantaneous internet. If the FCC's SpaceX can prove its case, the company can qualify for billions of federal grants aimed at providing internet with areas of poor quality or lack of broadband service.
However, the key to this effort is the devices that businesses and people use to upload and download data to and from Starlink.
The larger ground stations would be used in key locations to carry internet traffic to and from the Starlink network. In the meantime, Starlink beta testers and future individual subscribers would register with the network via the smaller terminals.
Musk said in 2015 that the user terminals would be about the size of a medium-sized pizza. Earlier this year, Musk continued to describe a user terminal as "a thin, flat, round UFO on a stick" that uses motors to "adjust to an optimal view of the sky" and talk to the SpaceX fleet of orbiting Starlink satellites.
All it takes to set them up, the CEO said, is to plug them in and point them up to the sky. ("These instructions work in any order. No training required," he tweeted on January 7th.)
The images of the satellite dishes shared on Reddit clearly match the description. An enlarged portion of a photo (not shown) also shows a label with a serial number and a note that says:
Property of SpaceX
Prototype - Not for sale or for rent
This device is only intended for demonstration purposes. This device has not been authorized by the Federal Communications Commission. This device will not be offered for sale, rented, sold, or leased until approval is obtained. Therefore, ownership must remain with SpaceX.

The size of the device also complies with the SpaceX patents for a phased array antenna component that appears to be in each user terminal.
A patent application filed by SpaceX for a phased array antenna component.
Google Patents; Business insider
The phased array, designed for fast tracking and communication with in-view satellites, is required for Starlink because the spaceship moves overhead so quickly. Bowl-shaped dishes that do not move and point to a part of the sky that were formerly aimed at a conventional television or Internet satellite would not be sufficient to maintain an uninterrupted connection. However, a phase shifter plate can work together to electronically and almost instantaneously direct a transmit beam from one satellite to another.
SpaceX applied for US and world patents for a "distributed phase shifter array system and method" in February 2018. The US version is still pending and the world version is still under review. As a result, neither the U.S. Patent Office nor the World Intellectual Property Organization have granted a patent to date.
However, Starlink has a long way to go to make it profitable
The rendering of the SpaceX satellite constellation for Starlink by a computer scientist.
Mark Handley / University College London
Musk sees Starlink as a colossal source of income to fund SpaceX's planned search for Mars. The company is authorized to launch almost 12,000 satellites, but is aiming to launch around 42,000 in total.
"In order for the system to be economical, it is actually on the order of 1,000 satellites," said Musk Business Insider of Starlink during a press conference on May 15, 2019. "If we put many more satellites into orbit than this, that's actually one very good thing. It means that the system is in high demand. "
While Starlink may complete beta testing the system and begin transitioning to public service before the end of 2020, it may take much longer to turn the project into a money-maker.
Musk told Aviation Week in May that reducing the cost of user terminals connecting subscribers to orbiting Starlink satellites remains a major hurdle. Phased array antenna components cost around $ 1,500, although Musk plans to sell his customers a "UFO on a stick" for around $ 200 to $ 300.
"I think the biggest challenge will be to make the user terminal and the cost of the user terminal ... affordable," he told Aviation Week. "It will take a few years before we really solve it."
The apparent conflict between a public rollout before 2021 and affordable user terminals around 2023 suggests that the cost of the devices will initially be heavily subsidized by SpaceX so that the company can build a customer base for the network.
Do you have a story or inside information about the space industry? Email Dave Mosher to or a direct Twitter message to @davemosher. Other secure communication options are listed here.
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