U.S. regulators granted SpaceX permission to launch up to 7,500 upgraded satellites for its Starlink internet business, but withheld approval for a larger network sought by the
The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that deploying more SpaceX satellites would be in the public interest, but it stopped short of immediately clearing the nearly 30,000 satellites it requested. The agency’s order, however, left the door open for further deployments by the company in the future.
The agency said in the order that it decided to limit the authorization to 7,500 to address concerns about space safety and orbital debris. The commission also placed conditions on where SpaceX would be permitted to deploy those satellites, among other rules.
The authorization will allow SpaceX to begin deploying its “next generation satellite broadband to Americans nationwide” and to users around the world, the FCC order said. “At the same time, this limited grant and associated conditions will protect other satellite and terrestrial operators from harmful interference and maintain a safe space environment, promoting competition and protecting spectrum and orbital resources for future use.”
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., as the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company is called formally, said in a statement it now will be able to “add even more capacity to the network, ultimately enabling us to add customers and provide faster service.” SpaceX can also request additional satellite deployments in the future as needed, the company said.
The order is the latest in a series of steps the FCC has said it is making to balance a booming satellite communications sector with competitive and environmental concerns. The commission last month created a separate space bureau to handle a flood of new business in recent years, including applications for more than 64,000 new satellites.
Rival satellite ventures including
Dish Network Corp.
, SES SA and
have raised issues with many aspects of the Starlink request. They have argued that its planned expansion would interfere with their signals, increase the risk of space debris or cause other problems for the broader aerospace sector.
The FCC agreed with some of those arguments, saying that a smaller number of approved satellites would allow regulators to keep monitoring the deployments “prior to consideration of the much larger number of satellites SpaceX requests over the long term.”
In February, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said SpaceX’s proposal for 30,000 additional satellites would inherently create risks of more collisions in orbits near Earth.
SpaceX has defended its approach to space sustainability and safety in filings before the FCC. The company also said in February that it has invested significant resources to ensure its satellites and other spacecraft meet or exceed regulations and best practices for those issues. SpaceX said that it had developed a collision-avoidance system for its satellites.
Starlink is SpaceX’s business that uses satellites relatively close to Earth to provide high-speed internet connections with minimal connection lags. The satellites are designed to naturally fall to Earth after a few years and need regular rocket launches to replace them.
Mr. Musk has described Starlink in the past as a way for SpaceX to raise funds for a mission to Mars, and he has discussed investing at least $5 billion in the service.
Starlink has grown quickly this year, according to the company. In March, an executive at the business said it had around 250,000 subscribers across households and companies. By June, Starlink listed more than 400,000 subscribers in a filing with the FCC.
Executives at Starlink have been pursuing deals to install the service on airplanes, selling services to recreational-vehicle owners and for use on boats. After a price increase earlier this year, the service costs $110 a month in the U.S., with an upfront charge of $599 for hardware.
Starlink has also played a role this year in Ukraine, providing internet connections for the Ukrainian military in its campaigns against Russia. Mr. Musk at one point in October said SpaceX couldn’t fund that service indefinitely on its own. Pentagon officials have said they have discussed the funding for Starlink with SpaceX.
In an October FCC filing, SpaceX said that it anticipated blasting off satellites for its proposed 30,000-satellite fleet at least once a week in 2023. The company said it planned to load as many as 100 at a time on Starship, the large rocket system the company is now developing, and as many as 60 on Falcon 9, its workhorse booster.
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8