SpaceX approved to launch 7,518 internet satellites, but under one condition

16 Nov 2018

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket taking off from the 39A launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX has gotten the permission it needs to launch more than 7,000 satellites into orbit as part of its enormous Starlink constellation.

One of the biggest hurdles standing in the way of SpaceX launching 7,518 satellites into orbit has just been overcome, according to The Verge.

Having received approval from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March to launch more than 4,000 satellites, SpaceX was waiting on the government body to again approve the next batch of satellites that will make up its enormous Starlink fleet of almost 12,000 spacecraft.

With so many satellites in orbit at once, the constellation will be able to transmit signal to every part of the planet at once.

Capable of beaming 1Gbps broadband speeds down to the surface, the satellites were expected to fly between 1,150km and 1,325km above Earth. However, last week, SpaceX requested permission to change the orbit height substantially to just 550km.

By keeping the satellites in a lower orbit, SpaceX said it would be easier to get rid of defunct satellites without contributing to the already massive space junk problem. Within five years of their launch into orbit, NASA estimated that almost all of the Starlink satellites will need to be taken out of commission or they risk dramatically increasing in-space collisions.

SpaceX needs to get launching very soon

Given the scale of such a project, it will be a costly one for SpaceX with expectations that it will set the company back somewhere in the region of $10bn. Already, two of its test satellites – Tin Tin A and B – have been launched into orbit as of February and have, so far, proven a success.

In a statement, FCC chair Ajit Pai said: “I’m excited to see what these services might promise and what these proposed constellations have to offer.

“Our approach to these applications reflects this commission’s fundamental approach to encourage the private sector to invest and to innovate and allow market forces to deliver value to American consumers.”

However, the approval does come with a big condition set by the FCC in that SpaceX must launch almost 6,000 of the satellites into orbit by 2024. SpaceX will now be under pressure to start launching its equipment, with expectations that the first batch will be launching next year.

The Elon Musk-founded company was not the only one approved for launching internet satellites under the ruling, with Telesat, LeoSat and Kepler Communications planning to launch a total of 335 satellites of their own in the coming years.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic