Top 5 Companies Providing Broadband Internet From Space

Although not everyone sees merit in some of Elon Musk’s ideas, his plan to bring SpaceX to the masses might actually work. This company will launch …
TheMerkle BRICS Internet

In the world of technology, innovation is never hard to come by. Some companies are moving than willing to go out on a limb and offer a potentially groundbreaking service. When it comes to providing internet via satellites, several companies are trying to make a name for themselves.

SpaceX Seems to Lead the Pack

Although not everyone sees merit in some of Elon Musk’s ideas, his plan to bring SpaceX to the masses might actually work. This company will launch numerous satellites into space, which will then provide the masses on the ground with broadband internet access. Interestingly enough, this satellite internet market is expected to more than quintuple in the next few years. If SpaceX is successful in its venture it might have the biggest slice of the pie for the foreseeable future.

Facebook Isn’t Giving up Either

Plenty of people were surprised to learn Facebook wants to get in on the satellite internet action as well. In a way, this shouldn’t be surprising, as it will allow the company to collect even more data on its users. Whether or not the company will ever succeed in providing this rather unique service, is very difficult to predict. There is still a lot of work to be done before this technology can even become accessible to the masses at affordable prices, let alone go mainstream.

OneWeb has Plenty of Backing

Venturing into the world of satellite internet is not cheap. It requires a lot of research and development, and incurs both hardware and software costs along the way. Even then, there is no guarantee consumers will even take notice of this service. For OneWeb, failure is not an option. However, the company is backed by SoftBank Group, thus monetary concerns should not arise in the immediate future.

Viasat Tries to Keep an Edge

Many people tend to forget satellite internet is not a new trend by any means. In fact, it has been around for decades albeit it has never grown into a full-fledged industry. Given the access to broadband internet in most parts of the world, linking up to a satellite is not necessary for most. Even so, Viasat has become a rather successful company by providing this luxury service.

The bigger question is how the company will deal with this growing competition. It is pertinent for the first movers to maintain their competitive edge. Until SpaceX, Facebook, or OneWeb effectively shows its technology works, Viasat has nothing to worry about just yet. However, the provider must prepare for what will occur inevitably. A very interesting arms race is taking place in this space.

Don’t Overlook Hughes Network Systems

For those unfamiliar with Hughes Network Systems, it is part of EchoStar’s services and products. Similar to ViaSat, this company has been active in the world of satellite internet for some time now and will face some tough decisions and competition in the years ahead. One also has to keep in mind several other companies in this industry have already gone bankrupt in recent years.

Those Who Didn’t Make it

Back in the 1990s, space-based broadband internet access seemed like a good business model. So much even that Teeldisc – backed by Bill Gates, Iridium, and Globalstar all got in on the action as a very early stage. Unfortunately for all of those ventures, they were forced to file for bankruptcy not too long after. At that time, there weren’t multiple rocket-launching companies either, thus this time around might work out very differently.


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Viasat on Amazon, SpaceX LEO plays, Inmarsat’s GEO expansion, the Chinasat aero-IFC deal and …

It has started hiring outside Seattle, where a pool of experts formerly working for SpaceX’s Starlink project is available for duty for a company with …

Viasat Chief Executive Mark D.Dankberg. Credit: Euroconsult

WASHINGTON — The number of smart engineers with lots of career options who want to work on LEO-orbit broadband constellations has increased with the news that Amazon is looking at developing its own system.

Amazon has deep pockets and a reputation for sober decision-making. It has started hiring outside Seattle, where a pool of experts formerly working for SpaceX’s Starlink project is available for duty for a company with patience and cash resources.

It is not yet possible to gauge how serious Amazon is about this, but the company’s entry into the LEO broadband world alongside OneWeb, SpaceX, Telesat and others does give pause, even to a confirmed GEO-orbit broadband believer like Viasat Inc.

Viasat Chief Executive Mark D. Dankberg and David Ryan, president of Viasat’s space and commercial networks division, outline here the company’s thinking about LEO satellites’ latency and cost metrics, Amazon’s move, Inmarsat’s GX Ka-band competition, China’s in-flight-connectivity market, the status of the terabit-per-second Viasat-3 global broadband system and the Viasat-2 satellite’s antenna anomaly.

But first, Dankerg addressed the possibility that satellite fleet operators SES and Intelsat may find themselves flush with cash in a U.S. government-approved auction of C-band spectrum.

It now looks likely that the Intelsat-SES C-band clearing proposal to the U.S. government on could result in a large, possibly transformative, liquidity event for both those operators. Any implications for Viasat?

This is hard to handicap. Intelsat has a lot of debt so there is the consideration of what their shareholders get out of it and what do they do on the debt side. SES is a different story.

We are competing in an environment where multiple players are putting multiple billions of dollars in essentially the same segment [broadband connectivity]. So this [C-band windfall] will not be an enormous change.

People ask us: How are we going to compete? We are aiming to compete on productivity. We can come up with space systems that have way more useful throughput. That’s still the case. Nobody’s undertaken satellite projects like we have. There are learning curves we are going down that others haven’t started on. We are in a very capital-intensive business and asset productivity has a large effect. That’s what we are investing in.

And if they suddenly have a few billion in cash and need to deploy it?

Anybody who has money to burn can buy lots of assets. But if the assets aren’t productive, you won’t get a good return. Markets have been pretty punishing in the long run when that’s the case.

There’s also the M&A consequence of two operators whose video business is struggling now having cash to purchase others — for example, Avanti of London, with which you have a relationship.

Yes, but all our relationships are based on contracts, and to the extent we have binding contracts with them, that’s pretty much it.

Does Avanti have a role in your future Viasat-3 global network in terms of providing an orbital slot?

No, we have not discussed that with them. We have established a relationship with them that is mutually beneficial, but in the overall scheme of things, they are not [on the critical path]. They are trying to get a return that will work out for their new investors and we’re trying to work out a way to be helpful.

You mentioned the billions being invested in satellite broadband. OneWeb now has enough financing to launch satellites; Telesat’s LEO project is moving, even if financing is TBD; SpaceX will launch a group of Starlink satellites this month; and you saw the Amazon announcement in satellite broadband.

Might there be something to LEO that you missed?

Amazon is a very pragmatic company. The fact that they think there is something there is interesting. They have plenty of ways to make money and grow. They don’t have to do satellites. The fact that they think there’s a business there is something of a validation of the space business itself.

We’ll see how that progresses. The other thing about Amazon is, if you think about transmission as a means to an end, Amazon has the ends which they could put to good use.

Facebook does too.

Yes, Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon — they’ve all have got the wherewithal to do it if they want, and they have got applications.

The fact that Amazon is going to do something may motivate some of the other ones to think about it. But at the end, this issue of whether low Earth orbit is the right way to deliver bandwidth. Nothing Amazon has said changes the fundamental questions about low Earth orbit versus GEO.

You go into a restaurant and leave unsatisfied. A year later, someone with good taste eats there and loves it. Do you not think about trying it again?

It’s the consumers, the users of those systems, that matter. What we have said, and it’s still true even in rural markets, is that we don’t have enough bandwidth. We have the most productive assets and we know we don’t have enough. We have a next generation that is multiples of this, and that still won’t be enough.

Go back to the latency issue. Latency only is a factor if you have enough bandwidth. If your network is congested, latency is irrelevant because the delays from everything else are so long.

Even in emerging markets, the demand for bandwidth is enormous. You go into these rural villages in Mexico and they want to watch video as much as anybody else. So the real issue to us is whether these low-orbit systems are going to be more productive than what we can do at GEO. We don’t see that.

But Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has hired smart people who presumably don’t have skin in the game, and who told him: We can make this work.

We have interactions with Amazon. They are disciplined and smart. My own sense of what happened is that there is a perception that reducing the cost of launch is a big enabler for LEOs. SpaceX has low-cost launch, and [Amazon-owned] Blue Origin does. My understanding is that’s a big part of where they started.

The other thing is that SpaceX let go of the leaders of their Starlink project, and the perception was that Elon [Musk] was in a big rush, and that these people wanted to be more methodical, and actually they were aiming higher.

So if you look at the Starlink capability now, compared to what they were aiming for a year ago, it’s far reduced in order to meet that schedule.

You refer to the modification that reduce the orbit for part of the Starlink constellation?

If you look at the filings, there are quite a few changes that will substantially reduce the capability of the first generation to meet that schedule.

David Ryan, Viasat president, space and commercial networks. Credit: Viasat

David Ryan: Which reinforces what Mark was saying before: The physics starts weighing against you in having a network that doesn’t saturate when it’s over cities and is totally dormant when it’s over oceans or rural areas.

Dankberg: So the Starlink altitude is lower, I think the EIRP is lower, and in order to get the geographic coverage they have increased the look angles they are going to support. It’s not clear they are going to have cross-links.

Surely they’ll include inter-satellite links.

I’m just saying it’s not clear. What happened is, a number of people at Starlink said: We have this visionary system that got cut because of time and expediency.So they went to Amazon and said: There is this great system we think is possible, SpaceX is not pursuing it, you guys have a longer time horizon and you can make a bigger investment. Amazon says: We’re in this for the long run, we want to do that. Come over here. They have a system that they’ve filed and they’ve done a little bit to try to increase the fraction of time that the satellites are over populations.

So they are looking at it. I don’t know that they are committed to it.

Is it clear what frequency Amazon plans to use?

We think it’s Ka-band.

I know this sounds audacious but one Viasat-3 is comparable to the whole OneWeb first-generation constellation. Starlink was going to be more ambitious and there are estimates of what that was going to be. What we’re aiming for in our next generation would be almost the same — a satellite that has the same throughput as a whole constellation that costs $5 billion to $15 billion.

If we can do that, we’re going to be fine. Our capital costs are going to be so much lower. Our satellites’ lifetimes are going to be a lot longer.

Understood. But how long does the line of smart people have to be before you think: Maybe there is something to this LEO movement.

I’m not saying that what Amazon is doing is dumb. In their context it may make complete sense. In our case, we have a number of applications that are very bandwidth-intensive. Video is a big part of it. Amazon has video but they have e-commerce and other things that are not so bandwidth-intensive.

I don’t know what they’re thinking. All I know is that if you look at what the assessments were of the full-blown Starlink that they are not yet pursuing, that was a pretty capable system, very sophisticated. Still we don’t think it was economically better than what we’re doing.

For the markets we’re going after, we’re going to be fine.

Suppose you’re right: These systems aren’t business successes but do get launched. With the magic of U.S. Chapter 11, they’re purchased for pennies on the dollar. They’re still a factor, like Iridium and Globalstar from 15 years ago.

Iridium fared way better than Globalstar, partly because the satellites lasted far, far longer than they were expected to. They were way over-built — $5-$6 billion for 70-plus satellites.

But if you look at what’s going on now, these satellites are not being overbuilt. They’re built for a five- to seven-year life. That turned out to be a big problem for Globalstar even though their satellites also lasted longer than people expected. The deterioration of that constellation was a big issue.

OneWeb, which is bent-pipe, is going to have issues even if they go through bankruptcy. I don’t think these satellites are going to last 10-12 years.

SpaceX is trying to get something up that’s a first generation and then they’ll reinforce it. You’ll have a pretty short lifetime for those satellites.

But the general issue of what happens if these systems get restructured is a fair question.

Inmarsat is looking at standard satellite buses to which payloads would be added. The idea is a lower cost per delivered megabit for a constellation in GEO orbit to fill in their Global Xpress Ka-band service. What do you make of it?

Let me go back to productivity. The thing you need to sell a lot of bandwidth at a low price is assets that are extremely productive.

They might get that with this new generation of satellites.

I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why. Throughput is dependent on the illuminated bandwidth and the power that it has. Software-defined satellites use a lot of power that do not deliver capacity.

We were the first who did this. We did free bandwidth on JetBlue and Qantas, and we did Netflix. We’ve been the main catalyst for people’s increasing expectations for in-fight connectivity.

More people want to use it, and those that use it want more bandwidth. We have the most productive satellites in the world, and it’s still a struggle. Smaller satellites, with less power, aren’t going to have the structural ability to do some of the things that we’ve done. And you have to do all those things in order to get the productivity.

You’ll see the low end of these systems come up. But our objective, working with the airlines, is to raise their expectations and have them use it more. We are more encouraged that that is the right track when we look at some of the things our airline customers are doing.

Dave Ryan: One of our other strengths is that we’re very vertically integrated. If you’re building the terminal, the network and the satellite and you optimize that as a system, you can be much more efficient in how you deliver higher speeds to more people and more places.

It would be nice to be able to quantify that advantage. Not everyone thinks it’s significant. You saw the Eutelsat announcement with Konnect over Europe and Africa — Thales Alenia Space satellite, seven General Dynamics 9-meter gateways, Hughes ground network.

For Viasat-2 we use gateways that are half that size, and we have way more gateways. You can’t have more user link bandwidth than you have feeder link bandwidth. Having 45 gateways [for the current Viasat-2 network] gets you a lot more bandwidth than having seven gateways.

And [Konnect] is a smaller satellite with much less bandwidth. We’re doing tons of testing on our Viasat-3, and it’s got around 100x more throughput than where we were 10 years ago. To get there, we’ve have to change almost everything, with hundreds of gateways. We also have things like in-flight-connectivity coverage.

One of the things we put in there, which I still don’t see on any of these other satellites, is this notion of dynamic beam hopping so we don’t have to put a fixed amount of bandwidth in every beam. We can flex wherever the demand is.

We have looked at the filings for [Hughes Network Systems‘s] Jupiter 3 and they say flexibility is over rated, because they know where the demand is.

More regional satellite operators are announcing Ka-band broadband payloads. The most recent is Measat, with an Airbus satellite. Is that an issue, especially in Asia, as you plan the deployment of the Viasat-3 global network?

One of the things we’ve done in going into these countries is play to our strength in being integrated. We can do networking and operations. You see from our work in Brazil and Australia that they don’t need to use our satellite. We’re going to do that in China.

In China, on the aero side, there is the domestic air market but also the international market. On the international side, the Chinese airlines want to be competitive, and the international carriers want to be competitive outside their borders and inside of China. So there is some room there for a deal.

For Measat, we could be a very big consumer of these third-party satellites. one of the really good things about Viasat 3 is the flexibility. Countries can say to us: We have our own national satellite but we like the way you bring things to market. We like the aero, we like the defense things, we want to cooperate.

We have plenty of other places to use that bandwidth, we don’t have to use our satellite capacity in Brazil.

What milestone should we look for in the China Satcom agreement you recently announced on in-flight connectivity?

The most important thing is agreements with airlines. Thats what Chinasat wants. They want to be in the in-flight business and that means airlines. Chinasat has a very good satellite, it covers a lot of air routes.

What we have is a good reputation in the industry, especially at Ka-band. So there’s a potential for a good match.

Who goes to the airlines with this, you or Chinasat?

We both do. What the airlines want to know is: Can we get the JetBlue or American Airlines service? They want to know whether the satellites will support that. I think it’s a good combination. But really, the test is signing up airlines.

In Brazil, Viasat is providing ground segment to connect with Brazil’s Thales Alenia Space-built SGDC-1 satellite to connect some 3,000 rural public schools. Credit: Viasat

What’s the status of your Brazilian business? Are the legal challenges behind you?

The GESAC [government e-learning initiative] is progressing. It is very important to Telebras, and we are supporting them. We are very close to having the last approval from the TCU [Brazil’s Federal Accounting Court] on the contract. They acknowledged that the contract is legal, but they wanted some amendments to it. They need to rule on those final amendments. The Supreme Court has dismissed the other lawsuits about the contract.

The main thing we have been able to do is the GESAC contract. Bringing the rest to market hinges on the TCU.

Now that the insurance claim has been received, can we talk about what caused the Viasat-2 antenna anomaly? Boeing satellite, Harris Ka-band antennas and what you described as a problem in the antennas’ deployment in orbit.

David Ryan: We’re pretty confident that we know what happened, that the problem is stable and we’re not going to lose more capacity on the satellite. And we don’t think it’s going to affect our operations in the future now that we’ve adjusted for it. Here you can go back to our vertical integration. If you understand how it’s all working as a system, then you can adjust the network along with understanding how the satellite’s operating.

Mark Dankberg: Our point is that this happened, we’re still buying satellites from Boeing, and we’re still interested in those types of reflectors. Let’s learn from it. It was a very specific failure mode related to the combination of the spacecraft and the antennas.

It couldn’t repeat on Viasat-3?

No. First of all, it was a specific mechanical failure mode. And even if that antenna effect were to occur due to some other specific combination of events, the architecture of the satellite is robust. Once of the things with Viasat-2, and it’s not super surprising, is that a very minor mechanical dislocations can have a pretty substantial effect.

One of the things that we have wanted to do all along is make it so that we are robust to those types of mechanical issues. We feel confident in it.

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Millennium Management LLC Invests $520000 in Iridium Communications Inc (IRDM)

Millennium Management LLC bought a new stake in Iridium Communications Inc (NASDAQ:IRDM) in the fourth quarter, according to its most recent …

Iridium Communications logoMillennium Management LLC bought a new stake in Iridium Communications Inc (NASDAQ:IRDM) in the fourth quarter, according to its most recent 13F filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The institutional investor bought 28,178 shares of the technology company’s stock, valued at approximately $520,000.

Other hedge funds and other institutional investors have also recently modified their holdings of the company. Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund acquired a new position in shares of Iridium Communications in the fourth quarter valued at $37,000. Creative Financial Designs Inc. ADV raised its stake in shares of Iridium Communications by 30.6% in the fourth quarter. Creative Financial Designs Inc. ADV now owns 2,350 shares of the technology company’s stock valued at $43,000 after purchasing an additional 550 shares in the last quarter. Founders Capital Management acquired a new position in shares of Iridium Communications in the fourth quarter valued at $92,000. Zurcher Kantonalbank Zurich Cantonalbank raised its stake in shares of Iridium Communications by 13.9% in the fourth quarter. Zurcher Kantonalbank Zurich Cantonalbank now owns 6,237 shares of the technology company’s stock valued at $115,000 after purchasing an additional 761 shares in the last quarter. Finally, Amundi Pioneer Asset Management Inc. acquired a new position in Iridium Communications during the fourth quarter worth $116,000. Institutional investors and hedge funds own 85.16% of the company’s stock.

In other news, Director S. Scott Smith sold 3,500 shares of the firm’s stock in a transaction on Monday, February 11th. The stock was sold at an average price of $19.54, for a total value of $68,390.00. Following the completion of the sale, the director now directly owns 219,967 shares in the company, valued at $4,298,155.18. The sale was disclosed in a filing with the SEC, which is accessible through this link. Also, CFO Thomas Fitzpatrick sold 244,778 shares of the firm’s stock in a transaction on Friday, April 26th. The shares were sold at an average price of $27.07, for a total value of $6,626,140.46. Following the completion of the sale, the chief financial officer now owns 574,128 shares of the company’s stock, valued at $15,541,644.96. The disclosure for this sale can be found here. Over the last 90 days, insiders sold 444,289 shares of company stock valued at $11,958,144. 5.00% of the stock is currently owned by corporate insiders.

Several research firms have issued reports on IRDM. BidaskClub lowered Iridium Communications from a “strong-buy” rating to a “buy” rating in a research note on Thursday, April 18th. Raymond James lowered Iridium Communications from a “strong-buy” rating to an “outperform” rating and increased their price objective for the stock from $25.00 to $30.00 in a research note on Wednesday, April 24th. Northland Securities reiterated a “sell” rating on shares of Iridium Communications in a research note on Friday, March 1st. Finally, Zacks Investment Research upgraded Iridium Communications from a “hold” rating to a “buy” rating and set a $24.00 price objective for the company in a research note on Saturday, March 2nd. One equities research analyst has rated the stock with a sell rating, two have given a hold rating, four have issued a buy rating and one has assigned a strong buy rating to the stock. The stock has an average rating of “Buy” and an average target price of $23.20.

Iridium Communications stock opened at $27.41 on Tuesday. The company has a debt-to-equity ratio of 1.09, a current ratio of 1.05 and a quick ratio of 0.96. Iridium Communications Inc has a 52-week low of $11.50 and a 52-week high of $28.24. The firm has a market cap of $3.10 billion, a price-to-earnings ratio of -195.79 and a beta of 2.11.

Iridium Communications (NASDAQ:IRDM) last released its quarterly earnings data on Tuesday, April 23rd. The technology company reported ($0.18) earnings per share (EPS) for the quarter, topping the consensus estimate of ($0.23) by $0.05. Iridium Communications had a negative return on equity of 2.14% and a negative net margin of 7.98%. The firm had revenue of $133.70 million during the quarter, compared to analyst estimates of $128.54 million. During the same period in the prior year, the company posted ($0.07) earnings per share. The business’s revenue for the quarter was up 12.3% compared to the same quarter last year. Equities analysts anticipate that Iridium Communications Inc will post -0.66 EPS for the current fiscal year.

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Iridium Communications Profile

Iridium Communications Inc provides mobile voice and data communications services through satellite to businesses, the U.S. and foreign governments, non-governmental organizations, and consumers worldwide. The company offers postpaid mobile voice and data satellite communications; prepaid mobile voice satellite communications; push-to-talk; broadband data; and Internet of Things (IoT) services.

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Institutional Ownership by Quarter for Iridium Communications (NASDAQ:IRDM)

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FCC approves SpaceX’s plan to operate Starlink satellites at lower altitude

The Federal Communications Commission has granted a request by SpaceX to begin launching spacecraft for the company’s Starlink broadband …
SpaceX launched two test satellites for the Starlink in February 2018. The Starlink demonstration craft launched as secondary payloads with the Spanish radar observation satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Credit: SpaceX

The Federal Communications Commission has granted a request by SpaceX to begin launching spacecraft for the company’s Starlink broadband network to a lower orbit than originally planned, overruling protests by competitors and clearing a major regulatory hurdle before the launch of the first batch of Internet satellites from Cape Canaveral in May.

The regulatory commission approved SpaceX’s proposal Friday to fly more than 1,500 of its Starlink satellites at an altitude of 341 miles, or 550 kilometers, instead of the 714-mile-high (1,150-kilometer) orbit originally planned.

“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,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer. “Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing.”

The Starlink satellites will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad as soon as mid-May. The Starlink mission is next in line on SpaceX’s launch manifest at the Florida spaceport after the liftoff of a Dragon supply ship for the International Space Station, a launch currently scheduled for no earlier than Friday.

It typically takes SpaceX a couple of weeks to prepare for another flight from the same launch pad.

File photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX, led by billionaire businessman Elon Musk, has not said how many Starlink satellites it will launch on the Falcon 9 rocket. Company officials have also not disclosed information about each spacecraft’s dimensions or mass.

The Starlink satellites are built and manufactured at a SpaceX facility in Redmond, Washington.

The Falcon 9 rocket will heard northeast from Cape Canaveral, aiming for a deployment altitude somewhat lower than the satellites’ 341-mile-high operating orbit.

The FCC also granted SpaceX authority last week to use six ground stations to test the communications payloads on the first set of Starlink satellites, beginning as they maneuver from their launcher separation orbit to their final operating altitude.

With the FCC approvals last week, the first segment of SpaceX’s multi-tiered Starlink satellite fleet will include 1,584 spacecraft arranged in 24 orbital planes inclined 53 degrees to the equator.

The first two Starlink pathfinder satellites launched last year to prove out SpaceX’s antenna design and electric propulsion system, which will be used for orbital adjustments and maintenance during each spacecraft’s operating life.

“This experiment demonstrated the performance of SpaceX-built technology, such as its phased-array antennas and its powerful Hall-effect thruster propulsion system,” SpaceX wrote in last year’s application to the FCC to modify its Starlink license for the lower altitude.

The satellites, named Microsat 2A and 2B, launched as piggyback payloads on a Falcon 9 rocket from California with the Spanish Paz radar observation satellite in February 2018.

“These experimental satellites also provided key operational lessons, such as the benefits of operating at different altitudes and practical experience coordinating with and avoiding neighboring orbital objects,” the application read. “Even as operations continue with these two experimental satellites, SpaceX is already poised to leverage this successful demonstration to take the next step in its satellite development.”

“SpaceX will use elements from the Microsat spacecraft as the foundation of an efficient and economic architecture that will enable the rapid acceleration of deployment of the overall constellation,” SpaceX wrote to the FCC.

SpaceX received an initial green light from the FCC for its planned Starlink network in March 2018. At that time, regulators approved SpaceX’s proposal for a Starlink constellation consisting of 4,425 satellites transmitting in Ku-band and Ka-band frequencies in orbits more than 700 miles above Earth.

The FCC in November granted approval for SpaceX to operate a follow-on network of 7,518 additional Starlink satellites in a lower 210-mile-high (340-kilometer) orbits transmitting in V-band frequencies.

The Starlink fleet will use laser inter-satellite links to hand off Internet connections around the world without routing the signals through a ground station.

Days before the second FCC approval, SpaceX filed an application to modify the license issued the previous March. The company proposed shifting 1,584 of the Starlink satellites originally originally slated to fly at the 714-mile-high altitude to a lower 341-mile-high orbit.

Friday’s ruling from the FCC formally approved that change to SpaceX’s license.

In its request to modify the license last year, SpaceX officials said the lower operating altitude for the first batch of Starlink satellites would help assuage space debris concerns. If a Starlink relay station in the lower orbit fails, atmospheric drag will bring the satellite back to Earth within about five years, and most of the spacecraft will burn up during re-entry.

Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium and an advocate for policy solutions to address the problem of growing space debris, tweeted in November that he was pleased with SpaceX’s proposal to fly the first Block of Starlink satellites in a lower orbit.

“Premature failures at the higher altitude would have (meant the satellites) stayed up there 1000+ years being debris creators,” Desch tweeted. He added that SpaceX’s decision to first populate the lower orbit was “very responsible.”

Iridium operates one of the largest fleets of commercial satellites currently in orbit, with 75 one-ton voice and data relay spacecraft flying 485 miles (780 kilometers) above Earth.

SpaceX also argued that the lower orbit allows for greater separation between the Starlink fleet and large “mega-constellations” planned by OneWeb, Telesat and others. Having the satellites positioned closer to Earth also provides users with broadband connectivity with reduced latency, or time delay, and the spacecraft’s user beams will be finer, decreasing the network’s spectrum requirements.

There are tradeoffs to the lower orbit. More Starlink satellites will be needed to cover the same geographic area, and the spacecraft will have to fight against the effects of atmospheric drag.

Despite the reduced coverage offered by the lower orbit, SpaceX has redesigned its network architecture to reduce the total number of Ku-band and Ka-band Starlink satellites from 4,425 to 4,409.

The first set of Starlink satellites will transmit signals solely in Ku-band frequencies, allowing SpaceX to accelerate deployment of the network while continuing to develop dual Ku-band and Ka-band antenna technology, SpaceX officials said.

Earlier this year, SpaceX submitted an application up to 1 million user terminals for customers to connect to the Starlink network.

Starlink’s biggest near-term competitor is OneWeb, backed by the Japanese firm SoftBank, Virgin Group, Airbus, Coca-Cola, Intelsat, the Mexican conglomerate Grupos Salinas, and other investors.

OneWeb launched its first six broadband satellites in February on a Russian-made Soyuz rocket from French Guiana.

The first phase of OneWeb’s fleet will number 648 satellites to fly into orbit on Soyuz rockets from Kazakhstan, Russia and French Guiana under the auspices of a multi-launch contract with Arianespace. OneWeb built a new satellite factory at Exploration Park near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to produce the refrigerator-sized spacecraft in an assembly line fashion.

Telesat is planning a smaller network of broadband satellites in low Earth orbit. The Telesat LEO fleet will initially include 117 satellites, but could grow to hundreds more.

The first tech demo satellite for Telesat’s broadband project launched on an Indian rocket in January 2018. Earlier this year, Telesat selected Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, set to debut in 2021, to deliver many of the constellation’s satellites to orbit on multiple launches.

Blue Origin is owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, which is also designing a constellation of more than 3,000 broadband satellites under a project codenamed Kuiper.

The scale of the Starlink project is immense.

SpaceX estimates it will cost $10 billion to develop and launch thousands of Starlink satellites using its Falcon rocket family, design and deploy user terminals, and build out the infrastructure needed to connect a global network.

The company was founded in 2002 on Musk’s fortune, and has made a steady business of launching satellites and cargo for commercial customers, NASA and the U.S. military.

But like development of SpaceX next-generation Starship super-heavy-lift transport craft, the Starlink fleet is a new endeavor for SpaceX, requiring an infusion of funding as the company builds out a massive satellite production plant and tackles the development of ground terminals, a challenge that often paces the schedule of new satellite communications programs. SpaceX is looking for external investments to help prop up development of the Starlink network.

The fundraising has included venture capital investments and a $250 million high-yield loan negotiated last year. Google and Fidelity Investments funneled $1 billion into SpaceX in 2015 for a combined stake of nearly 10 percent in the company.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that SpaceX recently closed a $500 million fundraising round with a valuation of more than $30 billion. The newspaper reported SpaceX has promptly launched another fundraising campaign to try to secure $500 million more for the cash-hungry Starlink project.

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SpaceX’s plan to launch thousands of satellites into space gets the go ahead as Elon Musk pushes …

SpaceX has received FCC approval for its modified plan to launch thousands of broadband satellites into orbit around Earth. America’s Federal …

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 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 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

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

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.

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 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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