FCC approves SpaceX 4425 internet satellite network

The Federal Communications Commission approved an application by SpaceX to provide broadband services using satellite technology in the United States and around the world. With this action, the Commission takes another step to increase high-speed broadband availability and competition in the United States.

This is the first approval of a U.S.-licensed satellite constellation to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies. SpaceX proposed a satellite system comprised of 4,425 satellites and was granted authority to use frequencies in the Ka (20/30 GHz) and Ku (11/14 GHz) bands to provide global Internet connectivity.

Over the past year, the FCC has approved requests by OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat to access the United States market to provide broadband services using satellite technology that holds promise to expand Internet access, particularly in remote and rural areas across the country. These approvals are the first of their kind for a new generation of large, nongeostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems, and the Commission continues to process other, similar requests.

Here is the full 20 page FCC memo.

FCC says SpaceX must launch 2213 satellites by April 2024

SpaceX requested waiver of section 25.164(b) of the Commission’s rules, which requires NGSO system licensees to launch the space stations, place them into the assigned orbits, and operate them in accordance with the station authorization within six years of grant of the license. SpaceX asks that we apply the six-year milestone only to its initial deployment of 1,600 satellites. SpaceX states that completing its full constellation of over 4,400 satellites over a six-year period would require a launch cadence of more than 60 satellites per month, beginning on the day the Commission grants a license, which would be impractical, and that deployment of its full constellation is not necessary to allow it to commence delivery of broadband service. SpaceX argues that a limited waiver of section 25.164(b) would not undermine the purpose of the milestone requirements, as it would not result in, facilitate, or encourage spectrum warehousing. Several commenters argue that a waiver of this requirement would give SpaceX an unfair advantage as it would not require SpaceX to deploy its full constellation within the six-year period without further obligation to deploy the rest of its system.

[FCC] agrees with commenters that SpaceX has not provided sufficient grounds for a waiver of the Commission’s final implementation milestone requirement. FCC note that this issue was addressed in the NGSO FSS rulemaking, and this grant is subject to those rules. Under these new rules, SpaceX’s deployment of 1600 satellites would not meet the new 6-year milestone requirement that now requires 50 percent of the total number of satellites in the constellation to be launched and operated no later than 6 years after grant of the authorization. Given that, FCC deny SpaceX’s waiver request. SpaceX can resubmit this request in the future, when it will have more information about the progress of the construction and launching of its satellites and will therefore be in a better position to assess the need and justification for a waiver.

FCC says OneWeb and SpaceX have to coordinate their operations to avoid collisions

To avoid collisions with OneWeb satellites, OneWeb requested that grant of SpaceX’s application be conditioned on SpaceX maintaining “an approximate 125 kilometer altitude buffer zone (the “Safety Buffer Zone”) between its constellation and other NGSO systems,” including OneWeb’s own NGSO system, subject to coordination. As a preliminary matter, the scope of OneWeb’s request is unclear and could be interpreted to request a buffer zone that spans altitudes between 1,015 and 1,385 kilometers. Imposition of such a zone could effectively preclude the proposed operation of SpaceX’s system, and OneWeb has not provided legal or technical justification for a buffer zone of this size. While we are concerned about the risk of collisions between the space stations of NGSO systems operating at similar orbital altitudes, we think that these concerns are best addressed in the first instance through inter-operator coordination.