SpaceX, Elon Musk’s aerospace company, will be able to operate its Starlink satellites in lower orbits than originally planned. This was decided on Tuesday by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States. This decision affects 2,814 Starlink satellites and it has been a partial defeat for its competitors Amazon and OneWeb, as The Verge has reported.
Both Amazon and OneWeb attempted to thwart SpaceX’s plans by pointing out the possibility that low orbits create “frequency interference and increase the risk of collisions between satellites”, as indicated by the media. However, the FCC did not consider that there could be such problems: Starlink “does not create significant interference problems,” the commission noted. Instead, he did support Elon Musk’s company’s motives for making these changes by speaking of being “security-centric” for the satellite constellation. For example, it will be easier to get rid of satellites that no longer serve, sending them into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Although the FCC concession seems absolute, it is not. In fact, he has made several requests to SpaceX in exchange for accepting that their satellites have lower orbits. Terms of the approval include that Musk’s aerospace company must coordinate with other satellite operators to prevent Starlink from interfering with other constellations. In addition, every six months they will have to submit reports about the Starlink glitches. These should include the possible approaches to other satellites and the maneuvers that are made.
Competition with Amazon and OneWeb
SpaceX, OneWeb, and Amazon have similar plans: provide Internet to any part of the world. This means that satellites are necessary to be able to do it in the best possible way. And this is what has brought us here: satellites. But also the competition between the three companies.
Starlink currently has 1,300 satellites in orbit
Starlink is the project that is more advanced. They already have more than a thousand satellites in space and it is expected that launch thousands more soon. They have not given an exact number, at the moment. But knowing that 1,584 satellites in lower-than-normal orbits were accepted in 2019 and now another 2,814, the number is closer to about 4,000.
For its part, OneWeb plans to reach 648 satellites orbiting the Earth, although at the moment it only has 182, according to The Verge. As for Amazon, it has yet to release any of its own, although the FCC approved last year that by 2026 its Kuiper network has 3,236 satellites in orbit. That does not mean that both companies can send more in the future, but it will have to be prior approval of the FCC.
Starlink, a problem for astronomers?
There are currently 1,300 Starlink satellites orbiting the Earth. The idea of SpaceX and Elon Musk is that the constellation of satellites provide better Internet to its users. The Generalitat de Catalunya also intends to do something similar with the recent launch of Enxaneta.
Starlink will have more and more satellites in the future and this can make it difficult for astronomers to make observations. In fact, last year experts from NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab) released a manifesto calling for changes to this and other satellite constellations. They know that it is impossible for them not to be launched, but the changes are necessary so that we can all have the space that interests us. Some, the Internet. Others, observations that help us to better understand the universe and how it works.