FCC approves SpaceX plan to put over 7,000 satellites in orbit

Lloyd Doyle
November 16, 2018

The Federal Communications Commission today gave the go-ahead for SpaceX to operate a constellation of more than 7,500 broadband access satellites in very low Earth orbit - and also gave the go-ahead for other satellite constellations chasing similar markets.

"From providing high-speed broadband services in remote areas to offering global connectivity to the Internet of Things through "routers in space" for data backhaul, I'm excited to see what services these proposed constellations have to offer", FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said today.

SpaceX launched two prototype satellites in February, one month before the company gained FCC approval for its initial constellation of 4,425 satellites in Ku- and Ka-band frequencies.

The FCC granted Kepler conditional USA market access, allowing the Toronto-based company to offer global connectivity for the Internet of Things.

The FCC also approved access to the U.S. market for satellites from Kepler, Telesat and LeoSat. "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". It has said it plans to begin launches next year.

SpaceX, Telesat and Kepler all asked for leniency with the six-year rule, but were rebuffed by the FCC.

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

Authorisation comes as SpaceX successfully launched its 18th rocket into space from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, with a Falcon 9 rocket lifting Qatar's Es'hail 2 communications satellite into orbit. It was the first time a US-licensed satellite constellation got approved to provide broadband coverage using "a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies", the FCC said.

LeoSat meant to launch two prototype satellites next year, but scrapped those plans to save costs, choosing instead to do tech validation on the ground with Thales Alenia Space and investor Sky Perfect Jsat of Japan.

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. 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.

The number of satellites orbiting Earth from all nations stood at 1,886 in August, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists policy group.

An artist's conception shows a constellation of satellites in orbit. "Accordingly, we condition grant of the application on SpaceX presenting and the Commission granting a modification of this space station grant to include a final orbital debris mitigation plan".

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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