SpaceX received authorization from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch up to 7,500 next-generation Starlink satellites to orbit the Earth. “Our action will allow SpaceX to begin deployment of Gen2 Starlink, which will bring next-generation satellite broadband to Americans nationwide, including those living and working in areas traditionally unserved or underserved by terrestrial systems,” wrote FCC officials. “Our action also will enable worldwide satellite broadband service, helping to close the digital divide on a global scale,” the FCC’s decision order authorization document states.
Since 2019, SpaceX has launched a total of 3,558 internet-beaming Starlink satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Out of these, around 3,268 satellites remain in orbit according to data by astronomer Jonathan McDowell. SpaceX originally requested to launch 29,988 Starlink satellites to provide high-speed broadband internet globally, however, the FCC only issued a partial grant and has not yet approve the deployment of the full constellation. The FCC imposed a limit on the number of second-generation (Gen2) satellites approved to be launched in order “to address concerns about orbital debris and space safety,” said the FCC.
The Gen2 Starlink system will feature upgraded capabilities to enhance the internet network and take full advantage of the larger satellite chassis. According to an FCC filing submitted by SpaceX in August 2021, “[…] The satellites will be somewhat larger and generate more power, enabling them to support expanded capabilities now and accommodate additional payloads in the future [...].” Some of the 7,500 satellites are expected to be equipped with additional hardware. SpaceX could plan to offer companies and organizations the capability of hosting their antennas, sensors, or cameras, etc. aboard the Starlink satellite chassis. This will be useful to get the most out of the satellites' life. SpaceX already has a contract with T-Mobile to provide satellite-to-cellular services that will enhance Starlink satellite performance. This feat will be achieved with additional hardware and large antennas that will be installed on some of the Gen2 satellites (also known as Starlink V2.0). The Gen2 satellites will also feature inter-satellite laser links that will enable communication with one another to transfer data at a much faster rate. SpaceX already deployed some satellites with this capability that enabled internet service across Polar regions.
The Gen2 satellites are much heavier than the originals and most will be launched by SpaceX’s Starship rocket once it's operational; It will be capable of propelling 100 tons of payload to Low Earth Orbit. Earlier this year, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared that each Gen 2 Starlink satellite weighs approximately 1.25 tons. “SpaceX can leverage its powerful Starship launch vehicle, the next-generation heavy lift rocket that will be able to deliver more satellites to orbit at one time and to place them in a way that will facilitate faster activation,” SpaceX told the FCC in the 2021 filing. This capacity will enable the company to complete the constellation and provide reliable internet coverage to more customers who live in underserved regions globally. “Further, Starship allows SpaceX to iterate from its original satellite design and deploy next-generation satellites with more capacity and throughput, providing even further improvements for consumers to its already high-throughput, low-latency service,” the company wrote.
In 2021, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said that the company will continuously upgrade the broadband network by rapidly deploying new satellites with Starship. “The satellites will be limited in their life because the longer you want the satellites to live on orbit the more money you put have to put into it,” Shotwell said. “We will be continually launching these satellites to refresh the technology, to address any issues with the satellites, to put up ones that are working better in its place.” Starlink satellites have a planned lifespan of around 5 years and once each is no longer operational they completely burn in Earth’s atmosphere to avoid creating space debris. For more information visit Starlink.com.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.