SpaceX already has permission to deploy 12,000 internet satellites in low-Earth orbit, and launched the first batch of 60 in May 2019. Now it’s seeking the go-ahead to launch an additional 30,000.
The effort is part of SpaceX’s ambitious $10 billion Starlink project to create a system capable of beaming cheap broadband to locations around the world where internet connectivity is currently unreliable, too pricey, or non-existent. A growing number of companies — Amazon and Facebook among them — are also working on similar projects.
SpaceX, which is led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, told Digital Trends in an emailed statement that it is “taking steps to responsibly scale Starlink’s total network capacity and data density to meet the growth in users’ anticipated needs.”
Massive deployment … maybe
To succeed in its aim of launching as many as 42,000 satellites, SpaceX filed documents with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), whose tasks involve allocating spectrum and organizing satellite orbits, SpaceNews reported this week.
The application included 20 filings (each one for 1,500 satellites) and follows standard procedure in that it was made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on behalf of the company wishing to deploy them.
As SpaceNews noted, the latest request — if granted by the ITU — doesn’t necessarily mean SpaceX will build and deploy all 42,000 of its proposed satellites, but a green light will at least pave the way for future launches as and when required.
If everything goes to plan, deployment is expected to take many years to complete — only several hundred are expected to launch in the next 12 months, with the remainder of the initial batch of 12,000 satellites slated for deployment by the mid-2020s.
Tests to start soon
SpaceX is expected to begin using the satellites to test internet services in the northern U.S. and Canada as early as next year before “rapidly expanding” to cover other parts of the world.
The first phase of Starlink involves the gradual deployment of 4,425 internet satellites into low-Earth orbit, followed by an additional 7,518 satellites at a lower orbit.
Those in the higher orbit will maintain an altitude of between 690 miles (1,110 km) and 823 miles (1,325 km) and act as the backbone of the Starlink broadband service, while those in the lower orbit will maintain an altitude of between 208 miles (335 km) and 215 miles (346 km) and be used to boost capacity and lower latency, which is especially important in densely populated areas.
But not everyone is behind the efforts to beam high-speed internet from space. Astronomers, for one, fear that having so many sun-reflecting satellites in low-Earth orbit may affect their ability to get a clear view of deep space.
- Elon Musk says a UFO-on-a-stick will connect you to his internet satellites
- SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink internet satellites amid astronomer concerns
- Amazon bets big on its internet-from-space plan with major new facility
- Apple reportedly working on satellites that will beam data to mobile devices
- Twinkle, twinkle, little satellite: SpaceX’s Starlink project worries astronomers