SpaceX’s plan to launch thousands of satellites into space

SpaceX’s plan to launch thousands of satellites into space gets the go ahead as Elon Musk pushes ahead with his ‘Starlink’ plan to provide the world with high-speed internet

  •  Elon Musk’s SpaceX has received FCC approval for its ‘Starlink’ constellation 
  •  The satellites would provide reliable internet worldwide, the company said
  •  They had permission in 2018 but since sent them a request to modify the plan 
  • Test satellites sent into orbit taught them that the lower orbit allows coverage with 16 fewer satellites, which could limit the amount of space debris

SpaceX has received FCC approval for a plan to launch thousands of broadband satellites into orbit around Earth.

America’s Federal Communications Commission has given billionaire Elon Musk’s ‘starlink’ plan to provide reliable internet worldwide the go-ahead.

The company already gained approval to launch the constellation in November 2018 but it has since tweaked its plans.

They originally had permission to launch 4,425 Starlink satellites into orbit – between  689-823 miles (1,110 to 1,325 kilometres) above Earth.

However, they learned from test satellites that the lower orbit allows coverage with fewer satellites, reducing the amount of space debris.  

The modified initiative would fly more than 1,500 of the satellites at a lower orbit of around 342 miles (550km). 

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SpaceX has received FCC approval for its modified plan to launch thousands of broadband satellites into orbit around Earth. America’s Federal Communications Commission has given billionaire Elon Musk’s ‘starlink’ plan to provide reliable internet worldwide the go-ahead

SpaceX argued that it would be easier to get rid of satellites at this new altitude when they can no longer function properly in orbit. 

A request was sent to the FCC to partially revise the plans in November.

This is a major regulatory hurdle the company needed to clear in order to launch its first operational satellites as early as next month.

‘This approval underscores the FCC’s confidence in SpaceX’s plans to deploy its next-generation satellite constellation and connect people around the world with reliable and affordable broadband service,’ Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president.

But not everyone is positive about the ruling; OneWeb and Kepler Communications objected to the new plans citing that their satellites would interfere with their own.  

However the FCC ruled that it didn’t believe the satellites would create ‘significant’ interference. 

‘We deny the petitions to deny of OneWeb and Kepler. We note that there is no increase in the number of satellites in the constellation,’ they said in the ruling.  


Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched the first two of its ‘Starlink’ space internet satellites.

They are the first in a constellation of thousands of satellites, designed to provide low-cost broadband internet service from low Earth orbit.

The constellation, informally known as Starlink, and under development at SpaceX’s facilities in Redmond, Washington.

Its goal is to beam superfast internet into your home from space.

While satellite internet has been around for a while, it has suffered from high latency and unreliable connections.

Starlink is different. SpaceX says putting a ‘constellation’ of satellites in low earth orbit would provide high-speed, cable-like internet all over the world.

The billionaire’s company wants to create the global system to help it generate more cash.

Musk has previously said the venture could give three billion people who currently do not have access to the internet a cheap way of getting online.

It could also help fund a future city on Mars.

Helping humanity reach the red planet is one of Musk’s long-stated aims and was what inspired him to start SpaceX.

The company recently filed plans with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 4,425 satellites into orbit above the Earth – three times as many that are currently in operation.

‘Once fully deployed, the SpaceX system will pass over virtually all parts of the Earth’s surface and therefore, in principle, have the ability to provide ubiquitous global service,’ the firm said.

‘Every point on the Earth’s surface will see, at all times, a SpaceX satellite.’

The network will provide internet access to the US and the rest of the world, it added.

It is expected to take more than five years and $9.8 billion (£7.1bn) of investment, although satellite internet has proved an expensive market in the past and analysts expect the final bill will be higher.

Musk compared the project to ‘rebuilding the internet in space’, as it would reduce reliance on the existing network of undersea fibre-optic cables which criss-cross the planet.

In the US, the FCC welcomed the scheme as a way to provide internet connections to more people.

The initiative is that they would fly over 1,500 of the Starlink satellites at a lower orbit of 550km (around 342 miles). This was because they learned from test satellites that the lower orbit allows coverage with 16 fewer satellites. Here, SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from Florida

This is a major regulatory hurdle the company needed to clear in order to launch its first operational satellites as early as next month.

Regulators also didn’t find a significant risk of collisions in the new orbit, noting that each of the satellites would have thrusters to make manoeuvres to escape.   

‘SpaceX claims, because all its satellites have propulsion and are maneuverable to prevent collisions, they are considered to pose zero risk to any other satellites in this orbital region,’ the FCC said in the ruling.  

The company’s long-term plan to launch nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit to beam internet coverage down to Earth.

But Elon Musk isn’t the only entrepreneur looking to home in on the internet satellite service potential. 

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wants to put 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit in his space project, according to federal records.

The effort aims to cover areas that struggle with current infrastructure and boost these nations’ access to broadband internet. 

They have reportedly not yet filed with the Federal Communications Commission for US market access for the system. 


There are an estimated 170 million pieces of so-called ‘space junk’ – left behind after missions that can be as big as spent rocket stages or as small as paint flakes – in orbit alongside some US$700 billion of space infrastructure.

But only 22,000 are tracked, and with the fragments able to travel at speeds above 27,000kmh (16,777 mph), even tiny pieces could seriously damage or destroy satellites.

However, traditional gripping methods don’t work in space, as suction cups do not function in a vacuum and temperatures are too cold for substances like tape and glue.

Grippers based around magnets are useless because most of the debris in orbit around Earth is not magnetic.

Around 500,000 pieces of human-made debris (artist’s impression) currently orbit our planet, made up of disused satellites, bits of spacecraft and spent rockets

Most proposed solutions, including debris harpoons, either require or cause forceful interaction with the debris, which could push those objects in unintended, unpredictable directions.

Scientists point to two events that have badly worsened the problem of space junk.

The first was in February 2009, when an Iridium telecoms satellite and Kosmos-2251, a Russian military satellite, accidentally collided.

The second was in January 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite weapon on an old Fengyun weather satellite.

Experts also pointed to two sites that have become worryingly cluttered.

One is low Earth orbit which is used by satnav satellites, the ISS, China’s manned missions and the Hubble telescope, among others.

The other is in geostationary orbit, and is used by communications, weather and surveillance satellites that must maintain a fixed position relative to Earth. 



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