SpaceX Files to Accelerate Starlink Commercialization Readiness to November 2020

SpaceX has a new FCC filing to adjust the orbital deployment of Starlink satellites to accelerate deployment of commercial service.

SpaceX plans to provide continual coverage over northern states after as few as six more launches. They need license modification to speed up deployment in the Southern US. SpaceX’s filing stresses the importance of quickly getting service to parts of the US where broadband coverage is limited.

The FCC application marks a continuation of SpaceX’s drive to accelerate the deployment of its satellite constellation to deliver high speed, low latency, competitively priced broadband service throughout the United States, and especially to those who live in areas underserved or entirely unserved by terrestrial systems. Through this application, SpaceX seeks authorization to re-space
its previously authorized satellites at their existing altitude, with little to no effect on other operators, but to significantly benefit the early availability of broadband service to the unserved and underserved throughout the country. The request does not modify the overall number of satellites, their altitude or inclination, their operational characteristics, or orbital debris

Earlier this year, the Commission authorized SpaceX to relocate 1,584 of the satellites in its non-geostationary orbit (“NGSO”) system to an altitude of 550 km, where they would be able to achieve better performance and orbital debris mitigation characteristics without increasing interference to any other licensed user of the relevant spectrum. While SpaceX began deploying its system by launching the first 60 Starlink satellites on a Falcon 9 earlier this year, it has also verified the efficacy of a deployment approach that allows SpaceX to further accelerate its unmatched deployment schedule, ultimately serving more Americans even sooner. Specifically, based on the successful deployment of its first 60 satellites, SpaceX has confirmed that its groundbreaking deployment process, combined with the capabilities of its satellites and launch vehicle, will allow it to optimize its system with a slight realignment of its already-licensed satellites at their authorized altitudes. This adjustment will accelerate coverage to southern states and U.S territories, potentially expediting coverage to the southern continental United States by the end of [November 2020] for part of the USA and [November 2021] for the rest of the USA.

By adjusting the orbital spacing of SpaceX’s already licensed satellites operating at the 550 km altitude, SpaceX can populate more orbital planes with the same number of launches, while decreasing the corresponding number of satellites in each plane and keeping the total number of satellites constant. With this straightforward adjustment, SpaceX can broaden its geographic coverage in the early stages of the constellation’s deployment and enable service initiation to serve customers earlier in the middle latitudes and southern-most states, and critically, those often underserved Americans in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Importantly, SpaceX does not seek with this adjustment to change the overall number of satellites, their altitude or inclination, their operational characteristics, or their orbital debris implications.

Written by Brian Wang,