SpaceX to add additional 30,000 Starlink satellites in orbit

Starlink and ESA near-collision|Starlink | SpaceX

SpaceX is planning to send an additional 30,000 Starlink satellites to low-orbit Earth on its latest filing for spectrum coordinates from the International Telecommunication Union. The said plan comes at a time where international space agencies are looking to place commercial satellite constellations under the microscope over issues regarding space littering.

Starlink is SpaceX’s bid for providing global broadband access throughout the corners of the world. It is touted to become the world’s largest low-Earth-orbit constellation by far.

One FCC study notes that more than 24 million Americans still lack access to speedy broadband. This result concludes to at least 25 Mbps in download speed and 3 Mbps for uploading. The data estimates that half of the global population still lacks better internet connectivity.

Files submitted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to the ITU consist of 20 separate filings, requesting the agency for spectrum coordinates in Earth’s low orbit system for 1,500 satellites each. All in all, that’s a total of 30,000 satellites.

The ITU is a United Nations entity that coordinates spectrum at the international level for satellite operators to prevent signal interference and spectrum hogging. National regulators submit filing on behalf of their country’s satellite operators.

Notably, SpaceX deployed its first 60 Starlink satellites in May and plans to launch hundreds — potentially over a thousand — more in the year ahead. 

In the filings submitted to the ITU, it failed to contain details about frequency usage, proposed orbital altitudes, and the number of satellites it desires. The filings was unable to present the schedule SpaceX hopes to launch the satellites, or other information such as spacecraft throughput and deorbit timelines. 

But based on the announcements made by SpaceX during the World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris last September, the company is planning to launch an unprecedented number of rockets next year, with as many as 24 missions dedicated solely to hauling batches of its broadband-beaming satellites into space.

With that timeline, by the end of 2020, SpaceX could be delivering high-speed internet coverage across the southern United States.

If SpaceX launches 30,000 Starlink satellites in addition to the planned 12,000 units, the company will, by itself, be responsible for about a fivefold increase in the number of spacecraft launched.

Other than SpaceX, there are a handful of companies looking to launch mega-constellations, such as:

  • Google — expecting to start a 1,000-satellite constellation to cover 75% of Earth.
  • Amazon — 3,236 satellites known as “Project Kuiper.”
  • Boeing — recently proposed a constellation of 2,900 satellites. 
  • OneWeb — received an FCC authorization to launch its 720-satellite constellation, with 1,260 more to follow.
  • Telesat — is working on its constellation of 512 satellites.

Significantly, SpaceX’s plan to launch a satellite constellation of that size marks the growing attention towards how they should be regulated. Especially when the news regarding one of its Starlink satellites nearly collided with the European Space Agency’s satellite.

In other words, low-orbit Earth is slowly, but surely, becoming overcrowded, and necessary measures to prevent any forms of collision must be put in place.

However, it is not guaranteed that, by submitting numerous filings, SpaceX will build and launch 30,000 more satellites. Initially, the space company only planned to launch roughly 12,000 Starlink satellites for a fast broadband connection.

Tim Farrar, a telecom analyst critical of SpaceX, tweeted that he was doubtful the ITU will review filings of that number promptly. He sees the 20 separate filings as a SpaceX effort to “drown the ITU in studies” while proceeding with its constellation. 

For now, the ITU is not expected to approve SpaceX’s requests and may have adverse decisions regarding this matter. The agency is expected to formulate new requirements during the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference, which takes place from October 28 to November 22 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

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