The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has finally granted SpaceX the license it needed to begin deploying a new generation of Starlink satellites. While SpaceX initially wanted authorization to launch almost 30,000 v2 satellites, the FCC has only given the go-ahead for 7,500 (at altitudes over 500 kilometers) instead of the 29,988 it wanted. However, that’s still more than double the number that SpaceX currently operates.
SpaceX began deploying the v1 satellites in 2019. With the help of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, which can take up to 60 Starlink nodes into orbit per launch, SpaceX quickly became the single largest satellite operator in the world. Elon Musk’s plans for Starlink go beyond the capabilities of the current satellite designs, which are about 650 pounds (295 kilograms). The more powerful Starlink v2 will be several times larger at nearly 3,000 pounds (1,250 kilograms).
The limited approval is a response to several concerns, not least of which Starlink satellites could ruin astronomical observations. Scientists have been sounding the alarm on that since SpaceX began building its megaconstellation with smaller satellites. The deployment of tens of thousands of larger satellites could make matters much worse. The FCC also cited potential issues with congestion in orbit, which could lead to collisions with other satellite networks and spacecraft. Thus, it approved the v2 deployment only in specific altitudes.
According to the FCC, this grant actually lowers the total number of satellite authorizations for SpaceX. It currently operates about 3,200 Starlink nodes, and it was approved for a total of 12,000. SpaceX had over 7,500 unused licenses from its V-band network that will be merged with the second-generation network, and it could still get approval for more satellites later. The FCC will also require SpaceX to coordinate with NASA and the National Science Foundation to ensure that its new satellites don’t interfere with ongoing research.
Starlink’s beta service rolled out in 2020, offering speeds approaching 100Mbps. While it’s still much faster than traditional satellite internet, Starlink has become more congested as it adds more subscribers. SpaceX recently added a 1TB monthly data cap to the service as well. We wouldn’t expect any immediate improvements, though. SpaceX needs the in-development Starship rocket to deploy its larger satellites, and it has yet to conduct an orbital test of that vehicle.