WASHINGTON – Regulators of the US Telecom Industry agreed to a request from SpaceX to lower the orbit of nearly 1,600 of the proposed broadband satellites.
The Federal Communications Commission announced on April 26 that it was okay for SpaceX to change its plans to get these satellites into orbit at 550 miles instead of 1,150 kilometers. SpaceX says the proposed amendment six months ago would create a safer space environment because all of the no-longer-existing satellites at lower altitudes would re-enter the Earth's atmosphere in five years, even without propulsion. The lower orbit also means a greater distance between Starlink and the competing Internet constellations proposed by OneWeb and Telesat.
FCC approval allows satellite companies to provide communications services in the United States. In March 201
By reducing the orbits of some satellites, SpaceX estimates that a total of 16 fewer space probes are needed and signal latencies of just 15 milliseconds can be achieved.
OneWeb and Kepler Communications, two companies also developing low-earth orbit constellations, opposed SpaceX's change request and asked the FCC to reject it. Both were rejected by the FCC.
The companies responded mainly to SpaceX's call to use Ku band ground stations to connect to orbiting satellites. Kepler and OneWeb said the SpaceX ground stations could cause interference with their satellite networks, which are also in the Ku band.
The FCC disagreed, saying the tighter orbit could instead reduce the risk of interference, as the satellites do not need strong signals to connect to ground-based devices.
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer, said the agreement "underscores FCC's confidence in SpaceX's plans to deploy a next-generation satellite constellation and provide people around the world with a reliable and affordable solution Connect broadband service. "
"The production of Starlink is in full swing and the first group of satellites has already arrived at the launch site for clearance," she said in a statement.
SpaceX launched two Starlink prototypes in February 2018 and has been testing them since including the US Department of Defense . The company announced on April 26 that it plans to launch Starlink before May.
SpaceX said the new 550-kilometer orbit will accelerate the deployment of its Ku and Ka-band constellation. In its call for the new orbit, SpaceX said it intended to surpass FCC milestones, with half of the constellation in orbit within six years of approval (March 29, 2024) and the entire system in nine years have to.