Featured Image Source: created by @ErcXspace via Twitter
SpaceX revealed future plans for the Starlink broadband constellation in a new amended filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In the filing submitted on Wednesday, August 18, the company shared details about its next-generation satellites, referred to as ‘Gen2’. “This Gen2 System was designed to complement the first-generation constellation SpaceX is currently deploying,” SpaceX states, “While the original constellation provides unprecedented capacity for a satellite system, the demand for more broadband continues to grow unabated and the need for user connectivity has never been more important.”
Gen2 satellites are expected to feature inter-satellite laser links that will enable communication with one another to transfer data at a much faster rate. The FCC filing says the Gen2 System will also feature other new capabilities and be launched by Starship. “[…] The satellites will be somewhat larger and generate more power, enabling them to support expanded capabilities now and accommodate additional payloads in the future...” - meaning, 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 has invested substantial resources to research and develop more efficient and effective ways to optimize its system to deliver service to more customers more quickly,” the company wrote to the FCC. “Most significantly, SpaceX has found ways to leverage the advanced capabilities of its new launch vehicle, Starship, that has increased capability to deliver more mass to orbit quickly and efficiently and, combined with reuse capability of the upper stage, launch more often. With this increased potential, Starship allows SpaceX to better position satellites to meet changing consumer demand.”
SpaceX currently launches Starlink satellites in clusters of 60 atop a Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell says the Starship launch vehicle will be capable of deploying 400 Starlink satellites during a single launch. “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,” FCC filing says. 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.
To date, SpaceX is providing a Starlink beta service over 90,000 customers in 12 countries with 1,740 internet-beaming Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit, a dozen of these are operating in Polar orbit. Shotwell previously said the network will achieve global internet coverage once all satellites rise to operational altitudes of 550-kilometers. They expect the satellites to achieve their designated orbit by September. Overall, the broadband constellation could consist of over 20,000 satellites orbiting our planet, according to the new FCC filing.
SpaceX New Gen2 System Proposal
SpaceX’s amended filing features two new proposals to the FCC detailing how the company plans to deploy its next-generation Gen2 System. One of the proposals, Configuration 1, states they could double the amount of satellites launched by Starship, as soon as the launch system is ready. The Configuration 2 proposal is an 'alternate arrangement' that would be launched by Falcon 9 if the Gen2 satellites are ready before the Starship launch system is operational.
“Configuration 1 would amend the orbital parameters in SpaceX's pending application [Table 1 shown below] in three main respects. First, SpaceX would target multiple inclinations to more evenly spread capacity by latitude, ensuring better, more consistent global coverage. Second, it would nearly double the number of satellites deployed in a sun synchronous orbit optimized for service to polar regions, resulting in additional capacity for those chronically underserved areas like Alaska. Third, the revised orbital planes would enable single plane launch campaigns that capitalize on the ability of Starship to deliver satellites at a faster pace by not necessarily requiring a waiting period for orbital precession in a parking orbit. SpaceX could deploy satellites into their operational orbits within a matter of weeks after launch, rather than months. In this configuration, SpaceX would deploy 29,988 satellites,” the company representative wrote to the FCC, stating that the company prefers the Configuration 1 Starlink Gen2 System deployment plan. Configuration 1 would launch the satellites across 9 altitudes, ranging from 340 kilometers to 614 kilometers, as shown in Table 2. Configuration 2 would be launched by Falcon 9 into similar altitudes in different orbital parameters, shown in Table 3 below. “Configuration 2 would target multiple inclinations to more evenly spread capacity by latitude, ensuring better, more consistent global coverage,” the filing said.
Gen2 System Satellite Orbital Parameters
Table 1: SpaceX Original Application
Table 2: New Proposal Configuration 1
Table 3: Configuration 2
Source: SpaceX FCC filing
Featured Image Source: created by @ErcXspace via Twitter
About the Author
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.