On Thursday, the aerospace company won approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 7,000 new internet satellites into low-Earth orbit, markedly increasing the number of satellites now deployed. According to The Veerge, the overall constellation of satellites will consist of not less than 12 thousand spacecraft. The prototypes test communications between space and Earth for Internet of Things connectivity, though Kepler also plans to connect other satellites in space through the use of intersatellite links on its operational spacecraft.
Of the four, SpaceX is by far the largest with 7,518 satellites constituting what it calls a "very low Earth orbit", or VLEO constellation that would operate slightly below 350-kilometers.
In addition to the companies that were the subject of today's actions, the worldwide OneWeb consortium is planning to put hundreds of satellites in low Earth orbit to provide low-cost global internet access.
For the batch of 7,518 satellites, SpaceX asked the FCC to apply the six-year milestone only to an initial deployment of 1,600 satellites. Starlink will let the company provide a high-speed internet coverage to every corner of the world. "Our approach to these applications reflects this commission's fundamental approach: encourage the private sector to invest and innovate and allow market forces to deliver value to American consumers". The systems are expected to enable fixed satellite broadband service in the U.S., as well as support increased global connectivity for broadband and IoT services.
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. The Ku-band and Ka-band satellites from SpaceX will be created in-house.
An artist's conception shows a constellation of satellites in orbit.
The FCC gave SpaceX six years to launch half of the Starlink constellation and nine years to get the whole fleet up, or it'll require a waiver. Satellite-based service today now are used for service on ships and airplanes.
"SpaceX can resubmit this request in the future, when it will have more information about the progress of the construction and launching of its satellites and will therefore be in a better position to assess the need and justification for a waiver", the FCC wrote.
However, the approval does come with a big condition set by the FCC in that SpaceX must launch nearly 6,000 of the satellites into orbit by 2024.
The proliferation of plans for low-Earth-orbit constellations is one of the factors behind the FCC's newly announced moves to streamline its procedures for licensing satellite operations and review its rules for dealing with orbital debris.