Illustration of a satellite orbiting the earth

SpaceX plans to blanket the world with over 10,000 satellites

By Tony Chan

As part of a meeting hosted by the Senate Committee on commerce, science and transportation led by US senator John Thune, Space, SpaceX has provided further details of its plan to develop a massive satellite infrastructure to bring broadband services to the US and the rest of the world.

In her testimony to the committee, SpaceX satellite government affairs VP Patricia Cooper revealed plans that would see the company launch two constellations of satellites consisting of over 10,000 individual satellites, starting with prototype launches before the end of this year.

“Initially, the SpaceX system will consist of 4,425 satellites operating in 83 orbital planes (at altitudes ranging from 1,110 km to 1,325 km). This system will also require associated ground control facilities, gateway earth stations, and end user earth stations.7 Using Ka- and Ku-Band spectrum, the initial system is designed to provide a wide range of broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental, and professional users worldwide,” Cooper said.

“SpaceX has separately filed for authority to operate in the V-Band, where we have proposed an additional constellation of 7,500 satellites operating even closer to Earth.

In the future, these satellites would provide additional broadband capacity to the SpaceX system and further reduce latency where populations are heavily concentrated.”

SpaceX’s ambitious plan is built on the availability of “significantly more powerful computing and software capabilities,” as well as technology advancements such as dynamic beam forming and phased array antennas in space and on the ground, and optical inter-satellite links, Cooper added.

“The system will be able to provide broadband service at fiber-like speeds, the system’s use of low-Earth orbits will allow it to target latencies comparable to terrestrial alternatives.”

The company intends to begin testing the satellites as early as later this year, including launching a prototype into space before the end of the year and a second in the “early months of 2018.”

“Following successful demonstration of the technology, SpaceX intends to begin the operational satellite launch campaign in 2019. The remaining satellites in the constellation will be launched in phases through 2024, when the system will reach full capacity with the Ka- and Ku-Band satellites,” she said.

Cooper went on to pitch satellite-based broadband infrastructure as part of the core national internet infrastructure in the US, citing the need to move away from previous attitudes that often regarded satellite broadband as an “afterthought” for programs like the Universal Service Fund.

“In many ways, this was the result of limitations at the time on satellite capacity, high latency rates due to satellite distance from the Earth, and relatively slow data rates compared to terrestrial and mobile networks… However, as satellite-based broadband achieves speeds, latencies, and pricing equivalent to terrestrial and 5G wireless technologies, it becomes especially critical for Congress and federal agencies to reconsider how these systems can participate in national infrastructure investment programs and other federal initiatives to close the digital divide.”



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