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FCC grants Starlink satellite polar launch license



WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission will allow SpaceX to launch 10 Starlink satellites into the Arctic orbit during the upcoming mission, but postponed the decision to make more extensive changes to SpaceX’s license.

In an order issued on January 8, the FCC granted SpaceX a license to launch 10 Starlink satellites into an orbit of 560 kilometers at an inclination of 97.6 degrees. These satellites will be launched on Falcon 9 before January 14, which is part of Transporter-1, a dedicated small satellite ride-sharing mission.

SpaceX has been lobbying the FCC for several weeks to get permission to launch Starlink satellites on polar orbiting aircraft because the FCC is considering modifying the company̵

7;s license to reduce the orbits of satellites that were originally permitted to be used at higher altitudes. This included a request on November 17 for 58 satellites to be launched on a single polar orbiting aircraft, on the grounds that “it did not determine the opportunity for a polar launch in December.”

In a document submitted to the FCC on January 5, SpaceX stated that it had talked with FCC officials on this request the day before. The company said: “SpaceX confirmed that if proper authorization is obtained, its upcoming Transporter-1 mission will include 10 Starlink satellites designed to operate in polar orbit.”

SpaceX argued in the document that adding at least some satellites to polar orbits would enable it to start service in Alaska, which is not covered by existing Starlink satellites launched into moderately inclined orbits. The company said in a November document: “Launch into polar orbit will enable SpaceX to provide the same high-quality broadband services to the most remote areas of Alaska where other Americans depend, especially as the pandemic restricts connections within the United States. “

Other satellite operators oppose this move. Viasat stated in a November 19 document that “commercial convenience” is not enough to allow the FCC to grant SpaceX a license to launch satellites into polar orbits, which has caused people to harm the reliability of Starlink satellites and the damage caused by orbital debris. Worries.

The FCC concluded by its order that it is in the public interest to allow SpaceX to launch 10 Starlink satellites into polar orbit. “We found that the partial award of ten satellites will promote the continued development and testing of SpaceX’s broadband services in high-latitude geographic areas in the short term. Actions are needed to resolve the issue of the overall and fully modified polar orbiting satellites in the record. “.

It rejected Viasat’s objection, stating that allowing 10 satellites “has nothing to do with the issues raised by the commentators.” This includes the issue of orbital debris related to the failure of the Starlink satellite. The order said: “We have concluded that adding these ten satellites is unlikely to have any significant incremental impact on the operation of other satellites at relevant orbital altitudes.”

However, the FCC postponed its decision on SpaceX’s overall license modification request to lower the orbits of these satellites. In this order, the FCC did not state when it expected to rule on all requests.


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