FCC approves SpaceX plan to put over 7,000 satellites in orbit

CEO Elon Musk participates in

CEO Elon Musk participates in

The FCC granted OneWeb access to the US market in 2017, and OneWeb's first satellites could be launched from Arianespace's spaceport in French Guiana as early as next February.

SpaceX got the green light this week from United States authorities to put a constellation of almost 12,000 satellites into orbit in order to boost cheap, wireless internet access by the 2020s. SpaceX will also have more frequency bands added to its previously authorized satellites, according to the FCC's release.

The FCC has also authorized other companies to launch satellites, including Kepler (140 satellites), Telesat (117 satellites), and LeoSat (78 satellites). The FCC's approval for SpaceX shows a much grander vision than what SpaceX talked about before.

"I'm excited to see what services these proposed constellations have to offer", said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in an email statement to ZDNet's sister site CNET.

"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". SpaceX has also said it will provide gigabit speeds and that it will provide broadband access worldwide.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has two test satellites aloft, and it earlier won permission for a separate set of 4,425 satellites - which like the 7,518 satellites authorized Thursday are created to provide broadband communications.

None of the satellites has launched yet. In its request for modifications, SpaceX said the lower altitude would increase the space between its satellites and those of other proposed NGSO constellations, making for a better safety profile and mitigating the risk of collision.

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SpaceX thus has to deploy half of the 7,518 newly approved satellites within six years and the remaining satellites within nine years unless it successfully re-applies for a waiver.

As for the other satellite initiatives, the FCC granted their requests with certain conditions.

The FCC's March 2018 approval of SpaceX's first batch of satellites required SpaceX to launch 50 percent of the 4,425 satellites by March 2024 and all of them by March 2027. That promise is closer to reality today with the FCC announcing that it has approved the requests of four different companies to roll out new and expanded broadband services using satellites.

The SpaceX launch and other planned satellite constellations could increase the risk of satellite collisions and space debris, as we reported a year ago.

"While there are still issues to be explored, including communications with [Earth stations in motion] and orbital debris, and policy calls that we may not have gotten quite right, such as how we handle in-line interference, the commission continues to take necessary steps to allow investment and future deployment of these ambitious projects", O'Rielly said.

About 500,000 small pieces of debris were estimated to be in orbit in 2012, roughly five times the total in 2004, the FCC said in a notice.

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