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FCC authorized SpaceX to provide broadband service

by Martha DeGrasse

SpaceX, founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, plans to use more than 4,000 low-Earth orbiting satellites to provide global internet service. The satellites will be less than 1,000 miles above the Earth's surface, much closer than those of current satellite internet providers. The goal is to offer internet speeds that will be competitive with fiber and 5G cellular.


The FCC has authorized SpaceX to use frequencies in the Ka (20/30 GHz) and Ku (11/14 GHz) bands. The company plans to use the 10.7-12.7 GHz, 13.85-14.5 GHz, 17.8-18.6 GHz, 18.8-19.3 GHz, 27.5-29.1 GHz, and 29.5-30 GHz bands. 

SpaceX's internet service, called Starlink, has other regulatory hurdles to clear as it begins to launch its satellites. The FCC said SpaceX’s approval is conditioned on satisfaction of the International Telecommunication Union’s equivalent power flux-density (EPFC) assessment and the condition that SpaceX cooperate with other satellite operators to meet limits for aggregate EPFD.




Two test satellites for SpaceX's Starlink internet service were launched last month along with the company's Paz radio imagery satellite.


OneWeb, whose investors include SoftBank, Qualcomm and Intelsat, opposed SpaceX's application, citing the risk of satellite collisions. The FCC agrees that the skies are likely to get crowded, but said it is too soon to know how best to address this problem.


"While we are concerned about the risk of collisions between the space stations of [non-geostationary-orbit  systems] operating at similar orbital altitudes, we think that these concerns are best addressed in the first instance through inter-operator coordination," the commissioners wrote." At this stage, we do not believe it appropriate to specify the methods for effecting coordination, which may involve a wide range of changes in system design and operations." 


Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel issued her own statement, calling for "a comprehensive policy to mitigate collision risks and ensure space sustainability." She wants the FCC to be included in the National Space Council, which currently includes the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence. as well as representatives from the Office of Management and Budget, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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