WASHINGTON – US Telecommunications Regulators approved a SpaceX request to reduce the orbit of about 1,600 of the proposed broadband satellites.
The Federal Communications Commission said that on April 26, it was okay with SpaceX to change its plans for orbiting these satellites at 550 kilometers instead of 1150 kilometers. SpaceX says that the adjustment, asked six months ago, will make a safer space environment, since all non-permanent satellites at the lower altitude will return the Earth's atmosphere for five years, even without a propulsion. The lower orbit also means a greater distance between Starlink and the competing online constellations proposed by OneWeb and Telesat.
The FCC approval allows satellite companies to provide communications services in the United States. The agency provided access to the SpaceX market in March 2018 for 4,425 satellites using the Ku- and Ka-band spectrum and authorized 7.518 V-band satellites in November. Changed SpaceX plans relate to the smaller of the two constellations.
By decreasing the orbits of some satellites, SpaceX says it will need 16 fewer spacecraft in general, and that it can reach signal latency of up to 15 milliseconds.
OneWeb and Kepler Communications, two companies also developing low orbital constellations on Earth, opposed the SpaceX modification request and urged the FCC to reject it. Both were rejected by the FCC.
Companies mainly dealt with SpaceX's requirement to use KU-band ground stations to connect with some of the downed satellites in orbit. Kepler and OneWeb said land-based SpaceX could cause interference with their satellite networks, which are also in the Ku band.
The FCC disagrees, saying a closer orbit could instead reduce the risk of hurdles because satellites will not need strong signals to establish ties with equipment on the ground.
SpaceX chairman and chief operating officer Guinea Shotwell said the approval "emphasizes the FCC's trust in SpaceX plans to deploy next-generation satellite constellations and connect people around the world with reliable and affordable broadband service."
"Starlink production is in progress, and the first group of satellites has already arrived at the launch site for processing," she said in a statement.
SpaceX opened two prototypes of Starlink in February 2018 and tests it, including the US Department of Defense. The company announced April 26 that it plans to launch Starlink no earlier than May.
SpaceX said the new 550-mile orbit will help speed up the deployment of the constellations Ku-and Ka-band. In his request for the new orbit, SpaceX said it intends to overcome the FCC deployment features that call for half-constellation to be in orbit within six years of authorization (March 29, 2024) and the full system for nine years.