SpaceX's Satellite Internet Dream Is One Step Closer to Becoming a Reality

SpaceX’s vision to provide the world with affordable, high-speed internet using a constellation of thousands of satellites has taken a significant leap forward. On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission gave the company access to a range of wireless frequencies and approved the launch of 7,000 more Starlink satellites.

With this decision on the books, SpaceX has been cleared to launch all 12,000 satellites that will eventually make up the whole of the Starlink network. The only remaining regulatory hurdle is the final clearance on the amended plan they submitted to the FCC last week. The company intends to begin launches of the first few orbiters in mid-2019 and for initial service to be available as early as 2020.

“I’m excited to see what these services might promise and what these proposed constellations have to offer,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told The Washington Post*. “Our approach to these applications reflects this commission’s fundamental approach to encourage the private sector to invest and to innovate and allow market forces to deliver value to American consumers.”

Once operational, Starlink could wirelessly beam internet to regions of the world with little to no on-the-ground broadband infrastructure. It would also provide more competition in areas that are only served by one internet service provider.

SpaceX has been approved to put roughly 12,000 Starlink satellites in orbit.

Mark Handley / University College London

The biggest concern regarding the plan, however, is the possibility that it could exacerbate the rapidly growing problem of space junk. There is already roughly 6,800 tons of floating rocket components and defunct satellites floating above the Earth’s surface right now. This debris could endanger future space initiatives by cluttering the outskirts of the atmosphere with trash, a problem depicted memorably in Pixar’s Wall E.

Recently, SpaceX amended a portion of Starlink’s roll out plan in an effort to curb these anxieties. This primarily consisted of decreasing the planned altitude of the first phase of satellites and slightly reducing the total number of spacecraft overall.

In February, the company launched two demonstration satellites, named Tintin A & B, which have been successfully tested. SpaceX engineers have played online video games and streamed 4K videos using the connectivity they provided.

With the long-term Starlink plan gaining approval, the next step is toward a fully functioning space internet is the launch of the initial 1,600 satellites SpaceX wants to get in orbit by 2020. If that goes well, then it won’t be long before the first-ever space-based ISP is open for business.

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