SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s plan to provide high-speed communications to virtually any location on Earth got a big boost this week when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the company’s plan to add 7,518 satellites to the company’s Starlink constellation.
The action brings the total number of satellites in Starlink to 11,943 following the FCC’s earlier approval of 4,425 spacecraft last year.
Starlink is Musk’s ambitious entry into the global satellite Internet race. He is gambling big that there is a sufficient market worldwide to make the constellation profitable.
SpaceX launched two test Starlink test satellites into orbit earlier this year. Published reports say Musk wants to launch the first batch of satellites in the middle of next year, with service to begin in 2020.
Starlink is facing competition from OneWeb, which is planning to launch a constellation of 882 satellites to provide similar service. OneWeb plans to begin launching spacecraft next year.
The FCC also approved satellite broadband constellations by three other satellite companies last week. Telesat Canada received approval for an 117-satellite constellation while LeoSat plans to launch 78 spacecraft.
Kepler Communication’s 140-satellite constellation is focused on providing communications for the Internet of Things.
“These proposed satellite systems are expected to enable fixed satellite service in the United States, expanding global connectivity and advancing the goals of increasing high-speed broadband availability and competition in the marketplace,” the FCC said in a press release.
The constellations will greatly increase the number of satellites in Earth orbit. There are currently about 4,900 spacecraft in orbit out of the approximately 8,100 launched since the Space Age began in October 1957. Nearly 2,000 spacecraft are currently operational.
SpaceX constellation includes 7,518 satellite Internet spacecraft
Three other approved constellations total 335 satellites
WASHINGTON, November 15, 2018 (FCC PR) — The Federal Communications Commission today approved the requests of four companies—Space Exploration Holdings, LLC (SpaceX), Kepler Communications, Inc. (Kepler), Telesat Canada (Telesat), and LeoSat MA, Inc. (LeoSat)—seeking to roll-out new and expanded services using proposed non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) satellites.
These proposed satellite systems are expected to enable fixed satellite service in the United States, expanding global connectivity and advancing the goals of increasing high-speed broadband availability and competition in the marketplace.
WASHINGTON, February 14, 2018 (FCC PR) —Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai today proposed that the agency approve an application by Space Exploration Holdings, doing business as SpaceX, to provide broadband services using satellite technologies in the United States and on a global basis. Chairman Pai issued the following statement:
“To bridge America’s digital divide, we’ll have to use innovative technologies. SpaceX’s application—along with those of other satellite companies seeking licenses or access to the U.S. market for non-geostationary satellite orbit systems—involves one such innovation. Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach. And it can offer more competition where terrestrial Internet access is already available.
“Following careful review of this application by our International Bureau’s excellent satellite engineering experts, I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application and moving to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans. If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies.”
Over the past year, the FCC has approved requests by OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat to access the United States market to provide broadband services using satellite technology that holds promise to expand Internet access in remote and rural areas across the country. These approvals are the first of their kind for a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems, and the Commission continues to process other, similar requests.
On most launches, the small secondary satellites that ride along with the primary payloads garner little attention.
That has begun to change in recent years as CubeSats have become increasingly capable. The importance of these small satellites could be seen in the recent launch of an Indian PSLV rocket, which carried a CartoSat Earth observation satellite and 30 secondary spacecraft from India, Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and the United States.
SpaceX has filed a new application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for approval to launch a constellation of 7,518 satellites to provide communications in the little used V band.
The system is in addition to another constellations of 4,425 satellites (plus orbital spares) SpaceX proposed in November that would operate in the Ku and Ka bands. In total, the two constellations would have 11,943 spacecraft plus spares.
“When combined into a single, coordinated system, these ‘LEO’ and ‘VLEO’ constellations will enable SpaceX to provide robust broadband services on a full and continuous global basis,” SpaceX said in its application.
Competitor OneWeb has submitted a new application that would add an additional 2,000 satellites capable of operating in the V-band to its planned constellation of 720 satellites.
While SpaceX has received most of the attention for its plan to launch more than 4,000 broadband satellite network, the constellation makes up just over half the number of spacecraft that companies have proposed placing in non-geosynchronous satellite orbit (NGSO).
Companies have filed applications with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 8,731 NGSO communications satellites. While most of the constellations would provide broadband and communications services, others would collect Earth observation data.
According to the International Telecommunications Union, NGSO spacecraft “occupy a range of orbital positions (LEO satellites are located between 700km-1,500km from the Earth, MEO satellites are located at 10,000km from the Earth), and do not maintain a stationary position, but instead move in relation to the Earth’s surface.”
SpaceX leads the pack with 4,425 spacecraft, followed by Boeing with 2,956 and WorldVu (aka, OneWeb) with 720. Boeing has a second application before the FCC for a constellation with 60 satellites.
The table below provides a summary of the applications filed with the FCC.
NGSO APPLICATIONS BEFORE FCC
NO. OF SATELLITES
Advanced communications, Internet-based services
Machine-to-machine communications (Internet of Things)
Wide band and narrow band communications services
Theia Holdings A, Inc.
Integrated Earth observation and communications network
San Francisco, CA
Maritime monitoring, meteorological monitoring, and earth imaging services
Pompano Beach, FL
Very high speed connectivity for end-user earth stations
Data relay constellation providing satellite operators with seamless access to NGSO satellites