SpaceX approved to launch 7,518 internet satellites, but under one condition

Kelley Robertson
November 18, 2018

SpaceX's plan to offer broadband internet service took another step forward Thursday as the Federal Communications Commission approved the company's application to operate an additional constellation of thousands of small satellites in very low Earth orbit.

The plan is to launch and operate a constellation of 7,518 satellites into the low-earth orbit.

Satellite communications have been in use for decades but Internet access through the technology is slow and expensive, largely because the satellites responsible for ferrying data to and from the ground orbit are at great distances from the earth, increasing lag. "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", said FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai.

The first two experimental Starlink satellites were launched in February with SpaceX planning on having the entire network deployed by the mid-2020s.

In 2021, his company will launch a vehicle - as part of its Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program - that is capable of servicing two to three dozen satellites in a distant geostationary orbit, some 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) from Earth where there are about 500 active satellites, most in telecommunications. At that altitude, SpaceX says atmospheric drag would pull spent satellites down in one month, assuaging concerns about the magnitude of debris that that many satellites could create in higher orbits.


On the same day the FCC approved an item contemplating what to do with an enormous amount of space debris, it approved the requests of four companies that want to roll out new and expanded nongeostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) satellites. For fun, I am including a video of the SpaceX Es'hail-2 Mission satellite launch to provide internet for the Middle East and North Africa that was done yesterday. Within five years of their launch into orbit, NASA estimated that nearly all of the Starlink satellites will need to be taken out of commission or they risk dramatically increasing in-space collisions. As a result, these low-flying satellites will have service lives lasting a couple of years before they burn-up.

Musk said in a 2015 speech that SpaceX planned to launch a satellite-internet business that would help fund a future city on Mars. It gives concern to the FCC regarding the debris rules and other space matters issues.

CEO Elon Musk has said the proposed satellite constellation could provide cheaper internet access, especially in more rural areas that are hard to service through land-based networks. Development of the Starlink satellites began in 2015.

In May, DARPA announced a $117.5 million project to adapt Starlink's technology for spy and navigation satellites to replace the USA military's aging fleet of giant and expensive satellites, which it fears are vulnerable to interception or interruption by hostile powers such as Russian Federation and China in the event of conflict.

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