SpaceX founder Elon Musk says he expects the company’s satellites to be delivering internet connectivity in around six months.
A private beta of the service is expected in around three months. The public beta, in around six months, will start with high latitude satellites.
SpaceX first launched its operational high latitude satellites in May 2019. The high latitude means connectivity may be intermittent and speeds will be relatively slow.
Last year, the company was granted permission to launch up to 4,425 satellites at a lower altitude of between 1,110km to 1,325km. In April, the FCC gave approval for the altitude to be cut in half for 1,584 of those satellites.
“From providing high-speed broadband services in remote areas to offering global connectivity to the Internet of Things through ‘routers in space’ for data backhaul, I’m excited to see what services these proposed constellations have to offer,” FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said at the time.
SpaceX gave the following reasons for wanting to operate in a lower altitude:
- Performance – SpaceX claims that operating closer to ground will reduce latency and boost capacity. Latency could be just 25ms, similar to current fibre broadband.
- Reducing debris – SpaceX requested 1,584 of its latest satellites to be authorised for operation at 550 kilometres instead of the 1,110-1,325km of the others. Moving the satellites lower means they can get the same results with 16 fewer in orbit.
Expanding on the reducing debris reason for operating in lower orbit, SpaceX claims that – when the satellite is no longer operational – it’s more likely to be dragged towards the planet. Dead satellites will therefore burn up in the atmosphere rather than remain and increase the likelihood of collisions.
A NASA study (PDF) found that 99 percent of satellites will need to be taken out of orbit within five years of launch or the risk of satellite collisions goes up substantially.
SpaceX made a filing with the FCC last week requesting another license chance which would see further satellites launched to an even lower altitude, but slightly less overall (4,408 instead of 4,425).
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