The Federal Communications Commission has awarded $9.2 billion in grants to private firms working to offer broadband internet to rural areas throughout the U.S. — and Elon Musk's SpaceX was one of the top winners of this industrial lottery, slated to receive $886 million throughout the next 10 years for its Starlink satellite broadband efforts as part of the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
Elon Musk's SpaceX awarded $886 million for Starlink project
Starlink is SpaceX's go-to project for expanding public internet service — building a constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to provide internet for people in places with little to no broadband internet, for the first time.
As of writing, SpaceX has already launched 900 of 12,000 planned satellites required for the Starlink system to become fully functional. CEO Elon Musk has said the company needs 800 satellites in LEO to offer "significant operational capabilities."
UPDATE Dec. 7, 5:50 PM EST: SpaceX's Starlink Beta, lack of broadband in rural areas
This comes on the heels of SpaceX's "Better Than Nothing Beta" aiming to test Starlink's broadband in October of this year — after the private beta was introduced this summer.
Among FCC's auctioned grant recipients are Charter Communications ($1.2 billion), LTD Broadband ($1.3 billion), and the Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium ($1.1 billion), according to the FCC press release.
As of writing 24 to 163 million people lack broadband internet access in the U.S. — with the greatest number in rural areas.
UPDATE Dec. 7, 5:55 PM EST: SpaceX's Starlink may affect astronomy
However, some are skeptical about Elon Musk's assurances regarding the effect the Starlink constellation may have on the night sky.
In July of this year, comet NEOWISE came the closest it will to Earth in more than 6,000 years, but astronomers were dismayed to learn their long-exposure images of the rare event were overlayed with traces of Elon Musk's Starlink constellation — effectively ruining the shot and raising the question of how astronomy will fare once the full constellation of internet satellites is in LEO.
UPDATE Dec. 7, 6:05 PM EST: Growing threat of 'space junk,' non-commercial interests
Additionally, the growing problem of "space junk" in the Earth's lower atmosphere may lead many to wonder if SpaceX's Starlink constellation will ultimately add to the danger of loose space debris zooming around the Earth faster than speeding bullets.
While Elon Musk and his company SpaceX may celebrate a major win in their campaign to complete the Starlink constellation and provide broadband internet service to underserviced areas in the U.S., it remains to be seen how such a substantial addition of fast-moving satellites will ultimately affect non-commercial interests in space.