SpaceX constellation gets endorsement from FCC Chairman Pai

SpaceX (Pixabay)
Elon Musk's company wants to launch 4,425 satellites in the initial batch and another 7,500 satellites even closer to Earth in the V-Band. (Pixabay)

A lot of satellite ventures are vying for FCC approval, and one of them just got the endorsement of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai: SpaceX’s plan to provide global internet access using more than 4,000 satellites.

Pai has proposed that the agency approve the 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.   

“To bridge America’s digital divide, we’ll have to use innovative technologies,” Pai said in a statement posted to the FCC’s website. “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.”

The statement went on to say that after careful review of the SpaceX application by the FCC’s International Bureau, “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.”

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The FCC has already approved requests by OneWeb, Space Norway and Telesat to access the United States market to provide broadband services using satellite technology. Other requests are still being processed, and it is not clear when the full commission might vote on the SpaceX application.

According to a letter to the FCC spotted by CNET, the first two test satellites for the SpaceX constellation will be placed into orbit this weekend. The main payload for the launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California will be the Spanish government's "Paz" satellite, according to the report.

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SpaceX’s consumer focus sets it apart from most other proposed non-geostationary satellite orbit systems, according to testimony by Patricia Cooper, vice president of satellite government affairs at SpaceX, during a Senate hearing last October. SpaceX has designed its system with the primary purpose of providing broadband service directly to end users, particularly individual households and small businesses. Thus, the long-held desire to serve rural areas could finally be met, although other ventures are also aiming for that.

SpaceX’s system will consist of 4,425 satellites operating in 83 orbital planes using Ka- and Ku-band spectrum. The company separately filed for authority to operate in the V-Band, where it has proposed an additional constellation of 7,500 satellites even closer to Earth, for its Very Low Earth Orbit system.

All of these satellites—plus those proposed by other ventures—will lead to a lot more "things" in space, and therefore managing space debris becomes a more pressing problem. OneWeb founder Greg Wyler stressed during the same Senate hearing that space debris is a top priority, noting that a single impact in space can cause thousands of debris fragments, fouling orbital altitude ranges for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

To prevent collisions, large-scale constellations must have a minimum altitude spacing for safety; OneWeb has worked with the aerospace industry, including Boeing, to develop best practices for an appropriate MAS. Wyler said a MAS of 125 kilometers can help isolate the impact of any single system that suffers a collision.