SpaceX has filed for permissions from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to allow them to conduct more launches before the end of 2019 for its Starlink satellites in order to expedite its plans of providing global broadband coverage.
The commercial space company is apparently banking on the current events following the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian and argues that the permissions granted by the federal regulators will allow the space company to bring coverage to the southern United States in time for next year’s hurricane season.
In particular, SpaceX is asking the FCC if they would be allowed to spread out its satellites across several more orbits around the Earth. SpaceX said it wants to triple the number of orbital planes at 550 kilometers, the altitude where its lowest layer of Ku- and Ka-band Starlink satellites are to operate.
“The proposed respacing would require fewer launches of satellites — perhaps as few as half — to initiate service to the entire contiguous United States,” SpaceX told the FCC August 30. “Globally, the modification would enable more rapid coverage of all longitudes to grow toward the Equator, as well as bolstering capacity over in areas of greater population density.”
Initially, the company said that they will need “6 more launches of 60” satellites per launch to get “minor coverage” for the internet network, and a dozen launches, or 720 satellites, are needed “for moderate” coverage.” So about a dozen more launches from now until next year was to be expected.
However, by splitting satellites into 72 rings instead of 24 as originally envisioned, Starlink will be more spread out, enabling greater launch efficiency, SpaceX said.
The move is clearly influenced by the company’s plans of introducing a new ride-share platform for people who wish to send their own satellites into the Earth’s orbit.
SpaceX plans to conduct at least one mid-inclination satellite deployment every month and will be able to accommodate some small satellite deployments along the way. Mid-inclination refers to Starlink satellite deliveries.
In addition, SpaceX also announced an agreement with in-space transportation company Momentus.
“We are showing that ridesharing from the Falcon 9 will be a game-changer. By ferrying payloads to multiple orbits from a single launch, we multiply the capability of an already very impressive system,” said Mikhail Kokorich, chief executive of Momentus, in the statement announcing the agreement.
Kokorich means that their spacecraft would be able to carry satellites with a total mass of up to 250 kilograms and deliver them to custom orbits after deployment from the Falcon 9.
Through this partnership, it will allow the space company to effectively disperse its satellites across the different orbits or a single launch to deploy Starlink satellites in three different orbital planes, rather than placing an entire batch in the same ring around the Earth, which they have requested from the FCC. Thus, sooner providing moderate Internet coverage by year’s end.
SpaceX argues that spreading the satellites into 22 to a ring instead of 66 per ring “accelerates the process of deploying satellites covering a wider service area,” SpaceX said.
Along with the contiguous 48 U.S. states, SpaceX said the new orbits would also speed service to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
SpaceX said the adjustments to its plans could bring Starlink broadband service to southern U.S. states by the end of the 2020 hurricane season, and farther out territories by the 2021 hurricane season.
Satellite communications companies regularly provide services after natural disasters, since storms and earthquakes can destroy cellular towers and terrestrial infrastructure, creating dark zones during times of crisis.
Using the benefits of satellites in times of crisis especially compensates for the events that unfolded this week where a bug in SpaceX’s communication system almost resulted for one of its Starlink satellites to collide with the European Space Agency’s Aeolus satellite.
That event emphasized the ESA’s call for multilaterally finding a way to police and regulate satellite systems especially those whose aim is to become a mega-constellation. In particular, rules on how companies should be able to clean up heir defunct satellites in orbit.