SpaceX satellite broadband plan gets nudge from FCC head
Elon Musk's company wants to send almost 11,000 satellites into low-earth orbit, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is endorsing the project.
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"I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application and moving to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans," Pai said in a statement.
SpaceX declined a request for comment on Pai's endorsement.
SpaceX's application proposes deploying one constellation in low-earth orbit between 1,100 km (684 mi) and 1,325 km (823 mi) above us, made up of 4,425 small satellites. It also calls for a second, larger constellation in very low-earth orbit around 340 km (211 mi) altitude consisting of 7,518 satellites.
The idea is to be able to provide low-latency broadband to rural and remote places with little or no internet access and to improve speeds and coverage in areas with so-so access. The service is currently set to go by the name "Starlink."
Exactly when the vote on approving SpaceX's Starlink proposal may happen is unclear. FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield told me that action on the SpaceX application could be taken internally any time or at a public meeting as soon as next month. The application is not mentioned in the agenda for the FCC's next open meeting on Feb. 22. If the vote happens internally, the result will be posted on the FCC website afterwards.
If SpaceX gets FCC approval, there are still other hurdles to clear, since operating a worldwide service will also require the blessing of a completely separate regulatory body, the International Telecommunications Union.
SpaceX could potentially operate its Starlink internet service just in the United States while it pursues approvals elsewhere, but that's likely still a few years off.