As SpaceX's Starlink statellites keep launching up to orbit in droves, some of the space company's competitors are trying to keep up the pace, and may be turning to questionable methods in the meantime.
On Friday, May 21, satellite operator Viasat officially asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to halt any more Starlink satellite launches until a thorough environmental impact report has been carried out.
The request comes after an April 27 license modification for SpaceX to operate its future (now current) Starlink satellites at a lower altitude. The change would improve operations for its broadband internet mega constellation, said SpaceX at the time.
SpaceX received the FCC's approval in late April, and now its Starlink satellites operate at an altitude of 354 miles (570 km), instead of the original plan of 683 miles (1,100km) high. The FCC placed clear conditions on its approval, which include bi-annual reports from SpaceX about any Starlink failures, and it must coordinate with other operators to ensure no interference happens.
Now, Viasat is looking to the FCC to impose further conditions, and carry out a review over the environmental impact of the Starlink satellites.
Starlink vs. Viasat
It's true that SpaceX has been launching Starlink satellites at an almost dizzying speed — approximately 700 of its 1,600 satellites in orbit were launched since January, pointed out SpaceNews. Another 60 satellites are meant to launch today, May 26, from Cape Canaveral in Florida, marking the company's 13th launch in 2021.
And as Elon Musk said earlier this month, there are already 500,000 Starlink internet pre-orders. So some people are inferring that Viasat's move is not so much concentrated on the actual environment than it is with its own future as a broadband internet provider in unserved or underserved areas of the U.S.
Teslarati goes through the stark differences in pricing and offerings between Viasat and Starlink, and it's easy to see why most people would turn to Starlink. Even though Starlink subscribers have to currently dish out a hefty $500 or so upfront, it winds up costing them less in the end than Viasat users, who'd have to pay around $500 every month if they want decent coverage.
As Teslarati points out, even though Starlink is still in its beta stage, its users see huge improvements in speed and uptime as the constellation keeps growing and SpaceX keeps working on it. Viasat users, however, can currently use 40GB of data and 25 Mbps in downloads for approximately $70 per month. That price jumps to around $150 a month for 100GB of data, and 30 Mbps.
So could Viasat's move against SpaceX be purely environmentally concerned, or is it trying to slow Starlink's constellation down and retain some of its customers in doing so?