To date, truly ubiquitous internet access has been the stuff of science fiction. Not anymore. The Verge reports that the “FCC approves SpaceX’s plan to launch more than 7,000 internet-beaming satellites.”
“Starlink is SpaceX’s ambitious project to provide constant, global internet coverage from orbit. The spacecraft in the constellation are meant to do a synchronized dance above the Earth, allowing for every part of the Earth’s surface to have a direct line of sight of at least one satellite at all times. The project is expected to cost $10 billion to develop, and SpaceX aims to have the constellation operational by the mid-2020s.”
Understand that this is not permission for a single satellite, but an entire constellation of 7,518 satellites. That does not include the first approval earlier this year for a total nearing 12,000 satellites. SpaceX is not the only company wanting to beam broadband from space, Telesat, LeoSat, and Kepler Communications were also approved. But their ambitions seem to be much smaller as they were only approved for 117, 78, and 140 respectively.
The 7,518 are intended to be low orbit satellites in the 335 and 346 kilometers range. More than 1,500 are intended for a slightly higher altitude of 550 kilometers.
SpaceX will start putting satellites into orbit next year. That’s a good thing because the FCC has given the company a strict deadline. A minimum of half the satellites have to be in place in six years. So Musk cannot afford any Tesla-style delays. Close to 6,000 units have to fly in a relatively short amount of time.
So far, only two test satellites have been launched and are doing just fine. They were sent up with Falcon 9 in February. Since then, the plans have changed somewhat to make adjustments to orbits. It is about to get a little crowded up there.
Because other companies will want to operate space internet services, there will be a lot of satellites. And collisions are a real possibility. Space, even just around the Earth, is exceedingly, almost unimaginably large. But we will be sending up satellites by the thousands. We also have to consider other countries will be doing the same.
Space junk is going to become an issue. And the FCC is concerned about the way future satellites will be de-orbited.
It will be some time before we are receiving our internet from space. But the groundwork is being laid right now. And the big players have the approvals they need to proceed. There is no word on how much a space internet service might cost, and how accessible it will be to people who are currently underserved by our current systems.