by Douglas Messier
A wave of new applications submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week for approval for communications satellites operating in the V band has sent the number of spacecraft in large constellations soaring to nearly 100,000.
A list compiled by Parabolic Arc shows that 94,255 satellites are included in the constellations. That number includes 29,439 satellites approved by the FCC or in development in China. The FCC has applicants pending before it for another 64,816 satellites.
SELECTED COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITE CONSTELLATIONS
|Constellation||Company||Status||Frequency Bands||No. of Satellites|
|Guowang||China Satellite Network Group||In development||Multiple||12,992|
|Starlink||SpaceX||FCC approved; 1,737 satellites launched, 1,447 active||Ka, Ku, V||11,943|
|Project Kuiper||Amazon||FCC approved; first 2 satellites scheduled for launch in late 2022 by ABL Space;|
awarded to United Launch Alliance
|OneWeb||OneWeb||FCC approved; 358 satellites launched||Ka, Ku, V||648|
|Spire Global||Spire Global||FCC approved; 140+ satellites launched||S, X||175|
|Starlink||SpaceX||FCC application||Ka, Ku, V||30,000|
|Astra Constellation||Astra Space||FCC application||V||13,620|
|OneWeb||OneWeb||FCC application||Ka, Ku, V||6,372|
|Project Kuiper||Amazon||FCC application||V||4,538|
|Hughes Network||Hughes Network Systems||FCC application||V||1,440|
|Kuiper Systems||Kuiper Systems||FCC application||V||199|
|Subtotal, Approved/In Development||29,439|
New applications for V-band satellites include Astra Space, Hughes Network, SpinLaunch, Intelsat, Kuiper Systems and Inmarsat. Applications to expand existing or approved systems have been submitted by SpaceX, OneWeb, Boeing, Amazon and Telesat.
The table above is likely incomplete and misses a number of planned communications satellite constellations outside the United States. The figures do not include constellations operated or planned for Earth observation, the Internet of Things or other purposes.
It is unlikely that all the constellations will be built. The flood of applications raises several difficult questions for the FCC. How many applications will the commission approve? What standards will it use to pick and choose? And how many satellites can low and medium Earth orbit safely accommodate?
The last question has a lot of implications for safe operations of robotic and human spacecraft. There will the need to coordinate operations as other nations approve and launch constellations of their own to avoid the creation of orbital debris due to satellite collisions.
The orbital debris problem is already serious, and there is fear of a Kessler syndrome — an escalating series of collisions that renders Earth orbit unusable. Technology needed to clean up existing debris is still in the early stages of development and testing.
The large number of new satellites launched by SpaceX, OneWeb and other companies are already causing headaches for ground-based astronomers who are dealing with streaks from the spacecraft as they image the heavens. A large increase in orbital satellites will exacerbate the problem.
Scientists have also raised concerns about thousands of satellites being disposed of in the atmosphere depositing chemicals that could damage the ozone layer.