SpaceX, TeleSat Canada bids get US nod to expand satellite internet

Satellite constellation

An artist’s conception shows a constellation of satellites in orbit

Elon Musk's SpaceX got approvals from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to put almost 12,000 broadband satellites into orbit that would foster cheap wireless Internet access by the 2020s.

The plan is to launch and operate a constellation of 7,518 satellites into the low-earth orbit.

The company's Starlink program is created to use satellites at a much lower orbit in order to improve internet connectivity on the ground, even in rural and remote places with little to no internet access.

"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.

Something to look forward to: SpaceX's Project Starlink could provide reliable Internet access to parts of the globe that have been cut off from the outside world due to a lack of competitive access (or access at all). SpaceX is expected to spend more than United States dollars 10 Million for this project with the aim of having it operational by the mid-2020s.

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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.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in October 2018. "It is a problem that's getting magnified in low Earth orbit by the proliferation" of small satellites. Existing satellites that provide Internet services are as high up as 22,000 miles, whereas Musk's "space internet" satellites have a dramatically reduced lag time thanks to their closer orbiting range.

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.

When satellites run out of fuel, they can no longer maintain their precise orbit, rendering them useless even if their hardware is still intact.

SpaceX had asked the FCC to approve modifications to its license, reducing the altitude from 1,150 kilometers to a new altitude of 550 km. It gives concern to the FCC regarding the debris rules and other space matters issues. The company already has permission to launch 4425 Satellite. "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". The first Starlink satellites should become operational by either 2019 or 2020. Development of the Starlink satellites began in 2015.

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