FCC Grants SpaceX Approval to Deploy 7,000 Broadband Satellites

Ruben Fields
November 18, 2018

By keeping the satellites in a lower orbit, SpaceX said it would be easier to get rid of defunct satellites without contributing to the already massive space junk problem. Several thousand small spacecraft will be at a height 335-346 kilometers, others "lift" to the height 1110-1325 kilometers.

In April, a prototype satellite dubbed RemoveDEBRIS was launched into orbit by the European Commission and a number of private partners to test a space trash removal effort that involves capturing debris with a harpoon and net, Sputnik reported. In its request for modifications, SpaceX said the lower altitude would increase the space between its satellites and those of other proposed NGSO constellations, making for a better safety profile and mitigating the risk of collision. Moreover, whilst LeoSat's core focus is solving essential business communications challenges, the unique design of LeoSat's constellation means capacity will also be available to enable a new level of connectivity services for Internet and cellular backhaul for remote and underserved communities.

These 11,943 satellites - between 220 and 1,100 pounds in size - will form the expansive Starlink broadband network, created to provide worldwide high speed internet access by ensuring that at least one satellite is always above the horizon for anyone on Earth. This follows on from the agency allowing SpaceX in March 2018 to launch 4,425 satellites. SpaceX's constellation got US authorization, while the other three were authorized by governments outside the USA but had sought US market access. However, the FCC turned down the request, citing that SpaceX has not provided sufficient grounds for the final implementation milestone requirement to be waived. The remaining satellites should be in orbit within nine years.

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That request has not yet been addressed by the FCC and must go through a public comment period.

"I'm excited to see what services these proposed constellations have to offer", said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in an email statement to ZDNet's sister site CNET. The satellites will also use V-band radio rather than the more common Ka/Ku band often employed by this service. With a variety of companies like Rocket Lab, Iridium Next, LeoSat and Open Cosmos vying alongside SpaceX to make satellite launches cheaper and more efficient, the issue of crowding has become a cause for concern. The FCC granted OneWeb access to the US market in 2017, and OneWeb's first satellites could be launched from Arianespace's spaceport in French Guiana as early as next February.

That's why the FCC today it has "initiated a comprehensive review of its orbital-debris mitigation rules". "Accordingly, we condition grant of the application on SpaceX presenting and the Commission granting a modification of this space station grant to include a final orbital debris mitigation plan".

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