SpaceX advances plan to build a global wireless Internet network

Satellite constellation

Satellite constellation

In its proposal approved Thursday, SpaceX says it plans to launch 7,518 satellites that would operate at altitudes ranging from 205 to 215 miles above the Earth.

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.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved the requests of SpaceX and three other companies to launch satellite systems and expand on existing services. SpaceX will also have more frequency bands added to its previously authorized satellites, according to the FCC's release.

Last month, reports said Musk fired some of the senior managers on the satellite constellation project, known as Starlink, at SpaceX's office in Redmond, Wash., because of disagreements over the speed of developing and testing the satellites. The companies are Space Exploration Holdings (SpaceX), Kepler Communications, Telesat Canada and LeoSat. Kepler's proposed system, consisting of 140 satellites, is licensed by Canada. "Our approach to these applications reflects this commission's fundamental approach: encourage the private sector to invest and innovate and allow market forces to deliver value to American consumers". The high-throughput satellites will form a mesh network interconnected through inter-satellite laser links, creating an optical backbone that is approximately 1.5 times faster than terrestrial fiber networks. 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.

SpaceX didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

SpaceX thus has to deploy half of the 7,518 newly approved satellites within six years and the remaining satellites within nine years unless it successfully re-applies for a waiver.

As for the other satellite initiatives, the FCC granted their requests with certain conditions.

None of the satellites has launched yet. Those satellites would use frequencies in what is known as the V-band to transmit data back to Earth.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the constellations that advanced today are evidence of a major shift in space activities, since the number of approved satellites almost equals the 8,126 objects that have been launched into space since Sputnik in 1957.

Commissioners Rosenworcel and Michael O'Rielly cautioned that more work remains to be done on orbital debris concerns given the large number of satellites planned to launch within the next decade, but said approving the four constellations was important to do now regardless.

As of April 2018, there were orbiting Earth. About 500,000 objects between one and 10cm "were estimated to be in orbit as of 2012", and at least 23,000 were man-made, the FCC said.

With so many satellites in orbit at once, the constellation will be able to transmit signal to every part of the planet at once.

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