FCC approves Starlink polar orbit

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Last week Elon Musk’s SpaceX has asked the FCC for permission to launch 10 Starlink satellites into a polar orbit – tentatively on January 14th.

The FCC has granted permission, but with some restrictions.

The FCC, said the launch can go ahead to a height of 560 kms and with an inclination of 97.6 degrees which represents a polar orbital plane. Previous permission specified heights of 1100-1300 kms. Initially, SpaceX had asked for permission to launch 58 craft but that plan has been suspended.

In its request SpaceX told the FCC that polar orbits would allow its Starlink service to begin over Alaska. According to SpaceX, the polar orbit satellites would be used “to initiate its service to some of the most remote regions of the country,” including to Federal broadband users for which there could be significant national security benefits

The FCC, in its decision, stated: “We find that partial grant of ten satellites will facilitate continued development and testing of SpaceX’s broadband service in high latitude geographic areas in the immediate term pending later action to address arguments in the record as to both grant of the modification as a whole and the full subset of polar orbit satellites,” the order stated.

However, SpaceX did not get all its own way, at least with this order. The FCC said that SpaceX’s request to dramatically modify the fleet of 4425 satellites overall orbital heights was deferred. SpaceX wanted to lower the specified altitude for the 2,824 satellites in the upper portion of its system from 1,100-1,300 km to 540-570 km.

Viasat, SES/O3b, Jeff Bezos’ Kuiper, Kepler, and Pacific Dataport,  objected to the SpaceX request.

The SpaceX launch of its 10 satellites will be co-passengers on its planned Transporter-1 mission, described as a dedicated rideshare mission and with a large manifest of smaller satellite devices on board including craft from NanoRacks, NanoAvionics, Exolaunch, Swarm Technologies, Spaceflight, HawkEye, NASA, iQPS, Umbra Labs, Celestis, Astrocast, Tyvax Nano-Satellite Systems, US DOD, USAF, KelplarianTech, NearSpace, Space Domain Awareness, R2, LINCOLNSHIRE, inOrbit, PlanetiQ, Capella, Kepler, Astro Digital, D-Orbit, Israel Defense, spaceQ, and UVSQ.

Musk’s Starlink system has also won approval from the UK authorities to install its send/receive terminals for access to the orbiting satellites. Authorisation was granted in November (and also to Greece, Germany and Australia). Reportedly beta-test installs are already happening in the UK.


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