• The Starlink Mini satellite ‘dish’ is as portable as a laptop.
  • Maybe we don’t need to take the internet everywhere.
  • Space junk is only getting worse.

Imagine launching a satellite into space so you can post a quick selfie.

 NASA


Thought you could escape the modern world when you decamp to the wilderness? Think again.

Starlink’s new Mini satellite dish is the size and weight of a laptop and can run off a USB-C battery pack. Carrying one means that you can connect to the internet from anywhere on the planet, which is great for emergency use, getting connected during a disaster, and so on, but probably the last thing you want to do if your idea of backpacking is to get off the grid and generally disconnect. And that’s before we even get to the environmental impact of all that space junk.

“I think a big aspect of what makes getting into the backcountry special is precisely that you can’t be contacted, and you can’t connect with technology. The fact that you can’t check social media, or reply to emails, or have text marathons keeps you present with your trip, nature, and the people you are backpacking with,” Richard Campbell, founder of 10Adventures, told Lifewire via email.

Off-Grid

The Starlink mini really is a marvel. It brings reliable internet to anyone, anywhere. Prices and terms vary greatly depending on where in the world you buy it and use it. It may be an add-on to a residential Starlink plan, like in the US, where you get 50GB of data per month for a $30 add-on. There may or may not be data or speed caps, and in-motion use (like on a boat or in a car) is permitted only in some places. Currently, Starlink Mini is only available via invite in the US.


Who’s a gooooood boy?.

Starlink


But once you’re set-up, you have a backpack-friendly device that can connect anywhere. For strictly emergency use, something more portable like a satellite phone might still be a better bet, but there are plenty of other reasons to carry—and to not carry—the internet into the wild.

For instance, researchers can stay connected in the field, as can emergency workers. People who operate outdoor tours can offer the connection to their clients. And on and on. What it’s not good for is getting you away from Instagram. Perhaps one of the best things about disappearing into the wilderness is that you probably aren’t going to see any of the crowds that visit Instagram hotspots to snap me-too selfies. Ubiquitous internet coverage, like you get with a Starlink Mini or with the iPhone in Apple’s upcoming iOS 18 update, could spread the Instagram plague yet further.

Space Junk

But the worst part might be the increase in satellite wreckage. Space is already full of junk. As of November 2022, there were almost 26,000 artificial objects in orbit, but that was just the big stuff. NASA estimates that there might be millions of chunks of debris up there, thanks to deactivated satellites and all the bits and pieces that crash and get smashed into tiny pieces.


Instagram cliches, coming to a wilderness (not) near you.

sola deo gloria / Getty


“Environmentally, the increasing number of satellites has been a concern. The argument revolves around space debris and the impact on astronomical observations. On one hand, Starlink proposes mitigation strategies like satellite deorbiting after their lifecycle; on the other, the sheer volume still poses risks,” Mark Baugh of outdoor website Survival Titan told Lifewire via email.

Satellites are used for all kinds of things, from GPS beacons to government spying to TV broadcasting. Perhaps we do not need to blanket the Earth’s skies with yet more hardware just so “digital nomads” can #vanlife their way even further off-road.

In the end, mobile satellite internet is both amazing and terrible, just like any technology. It all depends on how you look at it.

“The environmental impact of satellite constellations like Starlink’s is a valid concern. There’s the issue of space debris, which poses risks to other satellites and space missions. Additionally, the launch process itself has a carbon footprint. While these impacts are not insignificant, it’s also worth noting that these satellites can bring connectivity to underserved regions, which can foster education, economic growth, and even environmental monitoring,” Stephanie Webb, travel expert and a travel guide from Tripshepherd, told Lifewire via email.

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