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FCC Gives Thumbs-Up To SpaceX Low Orbit Starlink Satellite Project

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The Federal Communications Commission has recently approved SpaceX's proposed plan revisions to put thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit.

SpaceX will start launching satellites no earlier than May this year.

Global Broadband Connectivity

Initially, SpaceX planned to orbit 4,425 Starlink satellites using Ku- and Ka-band radio spectrum to transmit internet connectivity at 1,150 kilometers or 715 miles. However, it submitted a revised proposal last November, stating that it plans to place more than a third of its proposed number of satellites in 550-kilometer-high (340-mile-high) orbits rather than the previously approved 1,150-kilometer (715-mile) orbits.

SpaceX also plans to add more than 7,500 satellites in even lower orbits to enhance the constellations' coverage. It said that lowering the constellations' orbits would make for a safer space environment since even without propulsion, any defunct satellites at the lower altitude would reenter the Earth's atmosphere in five years' time.

According to SpaceX, lowering the orbits of some the satellites results in achieving signal latencies as low as 15 milliseconds.

Competitors' Objections

SpaceX's rival companies Kepler Communications and OneWeb consortium both object to SpaceX's plan revision and asked FCC to reject it. The two companies were especially concerned that the readjustment of SpaceX's satellites could result in an interference with their own satellite networks.

FCC refused both companies' request.

"SpaceX claims, because all its satellites have propulsion and are maneuverable to prevent collisions, they are considered to pose zero risk to any other satellites in this orbital region," says FCC in the authorization order on Friday.

FCC backed its decision by stating that by lowering the orbit of the satellites, interference between rival satellite networks will lessen because these satellites won't need as strong signals to link with equipment on the ground.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX's president and chief operating officer, was particularly ecstatic with FCC's action.

"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," says Shotwell.

"Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing."

Satellite Development

Other updates concerning SpaceX's satellite development plans include its recently submitted application to operate its first six ground-based gateways to provide the necessary communications links back from the satellites to the global internet as well as operating a million user terminals.

The constellation's telemetry, command, and tracking station would be in Brewster, Washington, and two of the gateways will be situated in in Redmond and North Bend, Washington.

SpaceX is also required to start operating half of its constellation's satellites by 2024. Because of this, the company is already assembling its super-heavy-lift Starship launch system in Texas.

SpaceX claims that an early version of its Starlink service could offer high-speed connectivity by 2020-2021. Also, by requesting for a new orbit, SpaceX says it intends to surpass the FCC's deployment milestones. It means that within six years, half of the constellation will be in orbit, and the whole system will be fully operational in nine years.

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