SpaceX gets nod to put 12,000 satellites in orbit

Satellite constellation

Satellite constellation

In March, the FCC approved SpaceX's plan to provide global satellite broadband services.

Elon Musk's SpaceX has received approvals from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to put a constellation of almost 12,000 satellites into orbit that would foster cheap wireless Internet access by the 2020s. That amounts to 11,943 satellites in total for SpaceX's Starlink broadband service.

Instead of sending Internet traffic to just a handful of satellites in geosynchronous orbit, the companies hope to boost satellite Internet speeds by using many cheaper satellites that orbit closer to earth. SpaceX was also granted a request to add 37.5-42.0 GHz, and 47.2-50.2 GHz support to its previously authorized NGSO constellation.

On Thursday, the FCC also approved hundreds of satellites from three other companies: Kepler, Telesat and Leosat.

The FCC said approval to the four companies on Thursday will enhance competition among existing and future FSS satellite systems. The FCC's approval for SpaceX shows a much grander vision than what SpaceX talked about before.

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"From providing high-speed broadband services in remote areas to offering global connectivity to the Internet of Things through "routers in space" for data backhaul, I'm excited to see what services these proposed constellations have to offer", FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said today.

"Our approach to these applications reflects this commission's fundamental approach to encourage the private sector to invest and to innovate and allow market forces to deliver value to American consumers". Last week, SpaceX filed an amended application seeking to put 1,584 of those satellites into 342-mile orbits instead of the originally specified 715-mile orbits. SpaceX has also said it will provide gigabit speeds and that it will provide broadband access worldwide.

The test units were created to gather information about the viability and technology needed to launch a global network of Internet-serving satellites that could blanket the entire globe.

SpaceX had asked the FCC to approve modifications to its license, reducing the altitude from 1,150 kilometers to a new altitude of 550 km. But the FCC denied the request, saying that "SpaceX has not provided sufficient grounds for a waiver of the Commission's final implementation milestone requirement". SpaceX will now be under pressure to start launching its equipment, with expectations that the first batch will be launching next year. Furthermore, the also Canada-licensed Telesat system was given a green light for high-speed, low-latency communication services in the United States via its proposed constellation of NGSO satellites.

The agency on a 4-0 vote advanced rules to require more calculations to demonstrate a planned spacecraft poses a minimal risk of collisions, and to minimize new orbiting debris - for instance, from devices that remain aloft after releasing a satellite.

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