In November, SpaceX sent a request to the FCC to partially revise plans for the company’s satellite internet constellation, known as Starlink. Under SpaceX’s original agreement with the commission, the company had permission to launch 4,425 Starlink satellites into orbits that ranged between 1,110 to 1,325 kilometers up. But then SpaceX decided it wanted to fly 1,584 of those satellites in different orbits, thanks to what it had learned from its first two test satellites, TinTin A and B. Instead of flying them at 1,150 kilometers, the company now wants to fly them much lower at 550 kilometers.
And now the FCC is on board. “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,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.
"“This approval underscores the FCC’s confidence in SpaceX’s plans.”"
SpaceX argues that by operating satellites at this orbit, the Starlink constellation will have much lower latency in signal, cutting down transmission time to just 15 milliseconds.
The first batch of satellites is already at the launch site and is expected to liftoff sometime in May. SpaceX plans to launch a total of nearly 12,000 satellites to build its Starlink satellite constellation, although most of these will be in higher orbits.
Not everyone was happy about SpaceX’s updated plans, though. OneWeb, another company developing a large satellite internet network, and satellite operator Kepler Communications both filed petitions to deny SpaceX’s request for a change to the FCC. They both argue that since SpaceX uses similar frequencies, the Starlink satellites could interfere with their satellites if moved to a lower orbit. But ultimately, the FCC did not think interference would be an issue.
There are other companies undertaking similar projects. OneWeb has already launched the initial six satellites [theverge.com] of an eventual buildout of 650 satellites. Amazon has announced its own internet initiative called Project Kuiper [theverge.com] which will put another 3,236 satellites in orbit.