Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with 58 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband internet network and three SkySat Earth image satellites will launch on August 18, 2020 from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Paul Hennessy | NurPhoto | Getty Images
The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday approved SpaceX’s proposed change to the Starlink satellite license, a win for Elon Musk’s growing broadband network despite objections from competitors including Amazon and Viasat, among other.
“We conclude that the granting of the SpaceX Third Modification Application is in the public interest,” said the FCC wrote in the order. “Our action will allow SpaceX to make safety changes to the deployment of its satellite constellation to deliver broadband services across the United States, including those living in areas underserved or unserved by terrestrial systems.”
SpaceX submitted the change request a year ago. The company requested that the next 2,814 satellites be changed to an altitude of less than 570 km after the first orbit of the first 1,584 satellites from the previous plan of altitude above 1,100 km. The FCC approval comes at a crucial time for SpaceX as the company has nearly 1,400 satellites in orbit and likely should have suspended its quick-start campaign without the FCC approval.
Starlink is the company’s capital-intensive project Building an interconnected Internet network with thousands of satellites – known in the aerospace industry as a Constellation – to provide high-speed Internet access to consumers around the world.
Opponents submitted numerous responses to the change proposed by SpaceX Companies like Amazon say it interferes with other satellite networks. SpaceX’s competitors also argued that the change was too significant for the FCC to treat as a simple modification, saying it should instead be included in a wider round of processing with new satellite systems.
The FCC dispute between SpaceX and Amazon became public in January when Musk took to Twitter to claim his competitor was trying to “thwart Starlink.” Kuiper is “at best a few years away from operations”. While Amazon hasn’t yet announced when its first Kuiper satellites will launch, the system was approved by the FCC last year requires the company to deploy half of its planned satellites within six years. This corresponds to the provision of around 1,600 satellites by Amazon in orbit by July 2026.
While Amazon repeatedly objected to the change in SpaceX, the tech giant described the FCC’s decision as a “positive outcome” as it “imposes clear conditions on SpaceX,” an Amazon spokesman said in a statement to CNBC.
“These terms address our primary concerns about safety and interference in space, and we appreciate the work the commission is doing to maintain a safe and competitive environment in low-earth orbit,” said Amazon.
In a broader sense, the FCC denied claims by other companies about signal interference in approving the SpaceX change.
“We also conclude that this change does not cause significant interference issues that would warrant treating the SpaceX system as if it were submitted in a later processing round,” the FCC wrote.
The FCC regulation requires SpaceX to publish a report twice a year that shows the number of Starlink conjunctivities – i.e. near misses with other satellites – over the past six months, as well as the number of Starlink satellites that have been discarded or re-entered, contains the earth’s atmosphere.