SpaceX Plans Experimental Broadband Satellites

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)
Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX is planning to launch six to eight test and demonstration spacecraft beginning in 2016 to test out technology the company will incorporate into a 4,000-satellite constellation that will deliver broadband Internet services to every location on Earth.

Details of the plan were included in a filing with Federal Communications Commission in which the company seeks experimental Ku-band communications licenses for its first two spacecraft, which will be named MicroSat-1a and MicroSat-1b.

“Both of these satellites will be deployed from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into an orbital plane of 625 km circular at 86.6 degrees inclination,” according to the filing. “The designed operating lifetime of each satellite is 6-12 months, but if this lifetime is exceeded, SpaceX plans to continue operation, within the bounds of the license, until such time as the primary mission goals can no longer be met. Both MicroSat-1a and MicroSat-1b are identical in construction.

“A main objective of the test program is to validate the design of a broadband antenna communications platform (primary payload) that will lead to the final LEO constellation design,” the filing reads. “Using three broadband array test ground stations positioned along the western coast of the United States, SpaceX intends to test this communication path at every possible opportunity. With the orbit profile provided, broadband array tests (Ku-band) will be conducted on average once every 0.9 days with duration of less than 10 minutes. For the reasons explained below, interference with other systems is generally very unlikely.”