March 1, 2024
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The Federal Communications Commission has approved SpaceX’s request to fly a large swath of its future internet-beaming satellites at a lower orbit than originally planned. The approval was a major regulatory hurdle the company needed to clear in order to start launching its first operational satellites from Florida next month.

In November, SpaceX sent a request to the FCC to partially revise plans for the company’s satellite internet constellation, known as Starlink. Under SpaceX’s original agreement with the commission, the company had permission to launch 4,425 Starlink satellites into orbits that ranged between 1,110 to 1,325 kilometers up. But then SpaceX decided it wanted to fly 1,584 of those satellites in different orbits, thanks to what it had learned from its first two test satellites, TinTin A and B. Instead of flying them at 1,150 kilometers, the company now wants to fly them much lower at 550 kilometers.

And now the FCC is on board. “This approval underscores the FCC’s confidence in SpaceX’s plans to deploy its next-generation satellite constellation and connect people around the world with reliable and affordable broadband service,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.

Not everyone was happy about SpaceX’s updated plans, though. OneWeb, another company developing a large satellite internet network, and satellite operator Kepler Communications both filed petitions to deny SpaceX’s request for a change to the FCC.

They both argue that since SpaceX uses similar frequencies, the Starlink satellites could interfere with their satellites if moved to a lower orbit. But ultimately, the FCC did not think interference would be an issue. “We find that the modification proposed by SpaceX does not present significant interference problems and is in the public interest,” the FCC wrote in its approval.

Ultimately, SpaceX plans to launch a total of nearly 12,000 satellites to provide internet coverage to every part of the globe. The company isn’t the only one interested in such a scheme right now.

OneWeb already launched six satellites in February, the first batch of a planned 650 satellites to provide global internet coverage from low orbits. And recently Amazon announced an ambitious plan to create 3,236 satellites for the same purpose, under a new initiative called Project Kuiper.

The FCC’s approval of this constellation is conditional on SpaceX being able to launch at least half of these satellites within the next six years. SpaceX said in its November filing that it plans to beat that deadline. “Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing,” Shotwell said in her statement.

According to the reports SpaceX plans to launch its first batch of Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida sometime in May.

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