The Federal Communications Commission has accepted SpaceX's request to fly much of the future Internet-blasted satellites in a lower orbit than originally planned. The approval was an important regulatory hurdle the company had to abolish for launching its first operational satellite in Florida next month.
In November, SpaceX called on the FCC to partially revise its plans for its satellite Internet constellation. known as Starlink. Under SpaceX's original agreement with the Commission, the company had permission to launch 4,425 Starlink satellites in orbits between 1,110 and 1
And now the FCC is on board. "This approval underscores FCC's confidence in SpaceX's plans to deploy a next-generation satellite constellation and connect people around the world with reliable and affordable broadband service," said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell.
SpaceX argues that by operating satellites in this orbit, the Starlink constellation has much lower latency in the signal and reduces transmission time to just 15 milliseconds. The lower orbit also means SpaceX can achieve the same range with 16 fewer satellites, and the company argues that the change will help reduce space debris. At 550 kilometers, satellites are more affected by the Earth's atmosphere and are pulled out of orbit much faster than vehicles that are higher. So if one of the Starlink satellites fails and is no longer functional, they should fall out of orbit and burn up pretty quickly in the atmosphere.
However, not everyone was happy about SpaceX's updated plans. OneWeb, another company developing a large satellite Internet network, and satellite operator Kepler Communications have both filed applications to reject SpaceX's call for a change to the FCC. They both argue that since the SpaceX uses similar frequencies, the Starlink satellites could disturb their satellites if they are moved to a lower orbit. In the end, however, the FCC did not believe interference would be a problem. "We find that the change proposed by SpaceX is not a significant interference issue and is in the public interest," the FCC wrote in its approval.
There was also concern about increased risk of collision when satellites changed altitude, as other operators have satellites on similar lanes. However, the FCC stated that SpaceX had submitted to the Commission a statement on the plans to remove the satellites. The company claims its vehicles pose no risk as they have engines and can avoid an orbiting satellite in orbit. "We have no reason to postpone SpaceX's modification requests requested by certain commenters," the FCC wrote. A recent NASA study has shown that satellites within these huge constellations must be reliably removed within five years to avoid a dramatic increase in collisions.
. SpaceX plans to launch a total of nearly 12,000 satellites to cover the Internet in all parts of the world. The company is currently not the only one interested in such a system. OneWeb launched six satellites in February. This is the first batch of 650 satellites that enables worldwide low-orbit Internet coverage. And recently, Amazon announced an ambitious plan to create 3,236 satellites for the same purpose, under a new initiative called Project Kuiper.
The clock is ticking for SpaceX to realize its Starlink constellation. The approval of the FCC for this constellation assumes that SpaceX will be able to launch at least half of these satellites in the next six years. SpaceX said in its November application that it intends to meet this deadline. "The Starlink production is in full swing and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the departure point for clearance," Shotwell said in her statement. SpaceX plans to launch a first series of Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida in May.