SpaceX Gets Approval from FCC to Fly Starlink Satellites Lower

The approval comes with conditions and was a partial defeat over its competitors like Amazon and OneWeb.
Fabienne Lang
60 stacked Starlink satellites in orbitSpaceX Starlink

On Tuesday, April 27 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved SpaceX's request to operate its future network of Starlink satellites at a lower altitude.

The modifications come with specific conditions and were met with objections by a number of rival companies like Amazon and its Project Kuiper, and Viasat, reported CNBC.

Even though Amazon was against the request, GeekWire reported that the company said its concerns were adequately addressed through the conditions SpaceX will have to abide by.

SpaceX says this positive result will create improved and safer operations for its broadband internet constellation. Astronomers will most likely also rejoice at the news, as the higher satellites orbit the Earth, the easier it is for them to reflect sunlight — thus staining ground-based nighttime observations of Space, reported The Verge.

What SpaceX requested and received

A year ago, SpaceX requested a modification to its Starlink satellite constellation. In its request to the FCC, the company asked that after its first 1,584 satellites were in orbit, that it's next 2,814 satellited operate at an altitude of under 570 km (354 miles) — down from its previous plan of flying them over 1,100 km (683 miles).

The timing of the FCC's approval couldn't be better, as SpaceX already has 1,300 satellites in orbit, and would have had to pause its launches of new satellites had the FCC not given it the green light. These 1,300 satellites will also be lowered to the 570-km (354-mile) mark. SpaceX's CEO, Elon Musk, was delighted with the outcome of the approval, taking to Twitter to explain that the "FCC is fair & sensible."

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Ultimately, SpaceX plans to offer high-speed broadband Internet to underserved and remote areas in the U.S.

The FCC found that lowering SpaceX's Starlink satellites will not pose interference problems with other satellites, which is one of the reasons rival companies like Amazon pushed against this request, but it did place some conditions on its approval.

The FCC's order requires that SpaceX file biannual reports to the FCC about Starlink failures, including near-misses with other operators' satellites. It must also coordinate with other operators to ensure Starlink's satellites don't interfere with other ones. 

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