Thursday, February 15, 2018

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Recommends Approval of SpaceX’s Internet Satellite Plan: Project has carried on in shadow of rocket program, foresees low-earth orbit satellites creating system with capacity of 50 million subscribers



The Wall Street Journal
By John D. McKinnon and  Andy Pasztor
Updated February 14, 2018 6:10 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—A top federal regulator on Wednesday recommended approving Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s plan to provide internet service through huge arrays of earth-orbiting satellites, in a move that could expand broadband availability across the U.S. and beyond.

The move gives a boost to the firm, known as SpaceX, and its founder, entrepreneur Elon Musk. SpaceX scored an attention-grabbing success last week with the test-launch of its massive Falcon Heavy rocket.

But questions still linger over the broadband project, and SpaceX officials have provided few details in public comments. SpaceX has said it plans to launch its first prototype satellite as early as this year aboard one of the company’s own rockets.

A SpaceX spokesman had no immediate comment.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said he had proposed that the agency approve the SpaceX application to use satellite constellations to provide broadband both in the U.S. and on a global basis. Fellow FCC commissioners will consider the matter in coming days.

“To bridge America’s digital divide, we’ll have to use innovative technologies,” Mr. Pai said in a statement. “Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach. And it can offer more competition where terrestrial internet access is already available.”

Mr. Pai said the proposed approval would be the first given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-earth-orbit satellites.

Over the past year, the FCC has approved similar requests by OneWeb, Space Norway and Telesat of Canada to provide broadband in the U.S. using satellite technology. Those approvals have been the first of their kind. The FCC continues to process other similar requests, it said.

Despite Wednesday’s announcement, it isn’t clear how far along SpaceX is in firming up its design, manufacturing and launch plans for the planned constellation. In public statements, senior company officials have said little and provided scant details.

And when there were comments, they generally indicated the broadband effort was on the back burner until the company completed pending development efforts involving bigger rockets and crew capsules to take astronauts into orbit. Work, testing and government approval on the manned space vehicles is still under way, with activities accelerating through the coming year.

Over the months, satellite industry officials have said SpaceX solicited some proposals from prospective subcontractors for the satellite venture but only for selected components or systems.

When it was conceived, the satellite initiative was viewed inside SpaceX as vital for the closely held Southern California company’s long-term success. The vision of Mr. Musk, chief executive and top designer for SpaceX, was spelled out in internal corporate planning and financial documents drafted in of 2015.

The project has progressed much more slowly than anticipated since then. Those documents, among other things, projected a total of some 4,800 low-earth orbit satellites would be launched by 2025, creating a system with a capacity of nearly 50 million subscribers. At the time, the first 800 satellites were anticipated to be launched by the end of 2019. The plan projected satellites costing less than $1 million apiece, a price point also targeted by OneWeb.

SpaceX’s plans envisioned launching 32 of its Falcon 9 rockets over roughly two years to deploy the first phase of the proposed satellite constellation. Its highest annual launch rate so far is 18 missions, and it already has contracts with dozens of paying customers waiting to have their payloads blasted into orbit before SpaceX satellites become primary payloads for company rockets.

Original article can be found here ➤ https://www.wsj.com

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