Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is asking regulators to approve radio links to spacecraft it plans to launch next month, a key step in the race to girdle the globe with thousands of low-orbit communications satellites.
An initial group of SpaceX satellites is to be launched in early May, and the company, in an April 5 application, is asking the Federal Communications Commission to allow six ground stations scattered around the U.S. to communicate with the spacecraft.
The stations can help control the satellites “in the unlikely event of a performance issue,” SpaceX said in the document that didn’t identify what problems might arise. The authority is needed because regular FCC licenses don’t authorize communications with low-orbit spacecraft before they reach their assigned positions, SpaceX said.
The request is part of a boom in private space investment and activity, fueled by a race to create a computing and data-communications shell surrounding the Earth. Current satellite orders would increase the amount of hardware orbiting the planet by at least five times over the next few years.
SpaceX won FCC approval in October to operate a constellation of 7,518 satellites in addition to a previously approved fleet of 4,425 orbiters. It has since asked to operate 1,100 of the satellites in lower orbits.
The satellites will beam internet service to antennas that can be placed on hospitals, schools and homes in areas that are hard to reach with fiber optic cables.
The request for lower orbits remains pending at the FCC, where it has met opposition from a rival satellite company, Greg Wyler’s OneWeb Systems Inc. There’s no reason to approve the communications request aside from SpaceX’s self-created deadlines, OneWeb said in a filing.
“SpaceX actively wields the potential dangers of its uncontrolled spacecraft as a cudgel,” OneWeb said in the filing. It said SpaceX’s underlying modification request “has encountered widespread opposition on issues ranging from increased radio frequency interference to troublesome orbital debris.”
SpaceX told the FCC such objections were “frivolous” and “seem more like a last ditch effort to delay a competitor from initiating the process that will bring true broadband services to millions of Americans in underserved and unserved areas.”
Tina Pelkey, an FCC spokeswoman, declined to comment.
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