- Despite several objections, FCC approves satellite orbital operations of Starlink
- FCC’s current license allows SpaceX to operate 4,408 Starlin satellites while the company plans to launch more in the future
- During the approval process, FCC received over 200 objections against the operational request
1400 satellites for Starlink’s operation
The concept of the internet and internet-related services have improved ever since its evolution. With the onset of various technological and networking advancements, the idea of internet connectivity has improved and evolved over the years. The world has moved on from 5G and is trying its hands on 6G services. On the other hand, the tech industry is trying to be one step forward in the move and bring about a revolutionary change to internet services by introducing the concept of satellite broadband services.
With a promise to provide high-internet services, Elon Musk instigated the Starlink project, a satellite internet constellation built by SpaceX to satellite Internet access. The constellation will consist of thousands of mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit, working in combination with ground transceivers.
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave a regulatory signal to Starlink satellite internet broadband for operations at lower orbits of the earth. On 26 April, FCC approved the deployment of a few Starlink satellites to give a push to the space-based internet broadband service. SpaceX received major regulatory approval from the FCC despite objections from various competitors.
The regulatory approval
The FCC’s current license allows SpaceX to operate 4,408 Starlink satellites. But the company has plans to eventually launch thousands more, pending FCC approval. Previously, SpaceX had sought approval from the FCC to orbit 2,824 satellites at a lower orbit in order to execute the plan of providing high-speed broadband internet services to people currently lacking access. “The change in altitude would improve space safety, reduce power flux density emissions to improve the interference environment, and lower “elevation angles to improve the customer experience,” SpaceX quoted the FCC. Granting approval to the satellite operation, FCC stated the implementation of a number of conditions to ensure the plan’s safety.
The FCC approved SpaceX’s request to operate 2,814 Starlink satellites at the 540- to the 570-kilometer range, down from the original 1,110 to 1,300km orbit. However, the FCC had initially given a clearance to the company to operate 1,584 Starlink satellites, about one-third of the licensed network, along a 550-kilometer orbit from the planet. Since then, SpaceX has launched nearly 1,400 satellites, to enable Starlink to deliver high-speed broadband to rural and remote locations across North America and Europe. The FCC also said SpaceX agreed to accept that their lower-altitude satellites may encounter interference from satellites deployed under Amazon’s Kuiper Systems satellite project.
Objections against Musk’s Starlink project
In 2020, SpaceX had applied for an amendment of the license to operate the remaining satellites at the same altitudes, quoting the ongoing successful delivery of high-speed internet by Starlink.
However, during the approval process, the FCC received over 200 public comments objecting to the satellite operations’ request from internet providers like Amazon’s Project Kuiper, OneWeb, Viasat, who are working in the satellite internet market. The companies challenged SpaceX’s claims on the expansion of the Starlink network to lower orbits citing radio interference. Amazon’s Project Kuiper argued that the Starlink network can cause congestion with other satellites.
FCC’S green signal to Starlink despite objections
Despite the objections, FCC grants SpaceX to carry out satellite deployment operations for Starlink. In a 57-page filing, the commission announced, “We conclude that the lower elevation angle of its earth station antennas and lower altitude of its satellites enables a better user experience by improving speeds and latency. We also find that SpaceX’s modification will not present significant interference problems.”
The FCC’s approval, however, does impose conditions on Starlink’s operation. The commission has ordered SpaceX to submit a report every six months listing details of any collision-avoidance maneuvers taken by the satellites. The same report will also need to cover Starlink satellites that have failed to operate. “SpaceX’s operations at lower altitudes and significant maneuverability should result in lower collision risk and an improved orbital debris environment,” it said.