On Tuesday, The Federal Communications Commission gave approval to SpaceX to operate 2,814 Starlink satellites in lower orbits than originally planned. The decision delivered a partial defeat over its competitors, like Amazon and OneWeb, which sought to thwart the tweak over concerns it would create harmful frequency interference and ramp up risks of satellite collisions.
The FCC found that allowing lower orbits for Starlink satellites does not create significant interference problems. Lowering the orbits, it said, allows SpaceX to make safety-focused changes to the constellation, like being able to more quickly discard any dead or broken satellites by steering them toward a fiery end in Earth’s atmosphere.
But it has some conditions: SpaceX must coordinate with other operators to ensure signals from Starlink satellites don’t interfere with others. The company will need to provide semiannual reports to the FCC on Starlink failures. Those reports will also list any conjunction events or any maneuvers or close calls with other satellites.
SpaceX’s Starlink network so far has over 1,300 satellites in orbit. The company plans to launch thousands more to provide global broadband internet to rural parts of the world, for governments and consumers alike.
The FCC’s approval means that SpaceX can lower the altitude of its next 2,814 satellites from a previously planned altitude of around 1,150 km to around 550 km, the same orbital neighborhood as Amazon’s proposed constellation. The FCC said SpaceX’s modification application attracted nearly 200 pleadings from other organizations and a significant number presentations and additional letters, most of which pushed back SpaceX’s change.