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SpaceX on track for 2021 Starlink launch

August 17, 2020

There are already well over 500 working Starlink satellites in orbit from Elon Musk’s SpaceX operation. SpaceX has launched almost 600 satellites but some have inevitably failed in orbit.

Starlink’s existing ‘friends and family’ beta tests will be expanded once SpaceX places another 240 or so satellites into orbit. This will need another four rocket launches.

An FCC filing has emerged which has SpaceX confirming that SpaceX “will begin affordable, high-speed commercial broadband service to remote and rural users this year, a mere two years after being licensed to operate by the FCC”. Beta tests have already begun.

The filing lists the various objectors to SpaceX’s Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) system. SpaceX uses the 12 GHz band, as do many geostationary orbiting businesses such as Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and others. Most have objected to SpaceX’s Starlink system over anxieties that Musk’s constellation will interfere with the geostationary signals.

SpaceX reminds the FCC – probably unnecessarily – that its LEO constellation has “co-primary” allocation of the 12 GHz band, and that it is the responsibility of [companies such as Starlink] not to interfere with fixed satellites under longstanding FCC rules”.

SpaceX also repeats its frequently offered position that it is open to evaluating possible paths to sharing the 12 GHz band more extensively, and “reaffirms its commitment to doing so here”.

Key to the filing is that SpaceX is now building 120 Starlink satellites per month and has invested over $70 million developing and producing thousands of consumer terminals each month. Extrapolating these numbers suggests that SpaceX is building more than 1400 satellites annually. This production level is unprecedented in the industry.

Indeed, at this rate SpaceX could easily supply more than 4,000 satellites in barely three years.

It is also worth comparing and contrasting this SpaceX production output for its Starlink craft with that of OneWeb, which declared its $3.4 billion bankruptcy having built and launched less than 100 satellites.

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