SpaceX’s plans to fly a group of internet-transmitting satellites, Starlink, at a lower circuit than initially planned has been approved by the Federal Communications Commission.
The Verge reported on Sunday that SpaceX initially planned to send off 4,425 Starlink satellites to distances between about 690-825 miles (1,110 to 1,325 kilometers), and its long term plan is to launch about 12,000 satellites.
The project got FCC’s consent in early 2018, but the company decided on the basis of the test data that it would send 1,584 of those satellites to cycle at a lower altitude of approximately 340 miles (550 kilometers). The Verge read that SpaceX explained that lower elevation would permit it to cut discontinuation down to 15 milliseconds and reduce the total number of satellites to 16 without cutting coverage. The lower height will also allow the satellites that lose orbit to begin burning up quickly instead of fill the Earth’s orbit with space debris, something that was an issue in a new NASA study.
OneWeb competing firm and satellite operator Kepler Communications were both against the project, alleging that Starlink could cause signal interference at the lower altitude and possibly even present a crash risk. The FCC, however, wrote in their approval that ‘the modification proposed by SpaceX does not present significant interference problems and is in the public interest’.
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president told The Verge in a statement that the FCC’s approval emphasizes their confidence in SpaceX’s project to redistribute its next-generation satellite constellation.
Although the plan sound good on paper, various other companies had numerous problems with their own similar plans. Facebook’s Project Athena failed to get drones to work in a proper manner, and turned to satellites with the goal to send off one by 2019, but it hasn’t yet. Google is also working on Project Loon, which wants to send LTE to remote areas of the world with hot air balloons but it has encountered numerous crashes and is facing a serious patent lawsuit. Amazon has also revealed its own enterprise, but there is absolutely no assurance that these plans will fulfill expectations anytime soon.
SpaceX has an inflexible timeline, and as Verge stated, the FCC’s consent of this constellation is dependent on SpaceX being able to send off at least half of these satellites in the next sic years. SpaceX has reported to the Verge that they have already created a batch of Starlink satellites and is on its way to start launching them in May.