Space Exploration Technologies Corporation’s (SpaceX) Starlink satellite internet service is gearing up to activate its first batch of new satellites. Starlink is currently providing users with Internet coverage all over the globe through its network of small satellites, ground stations and user terminals. In order to diversify coverage, improve speeds and reduce costly infrastructure costs, Starlink has also serviced newer satellites that feature optical links, dubbed lasers. These will allow the spacecraft to transfer data within themselves and increase the range at which the network can operate without having to rely on the ground stations.
On this front, Starlink has submitted an application to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking authority to activate spacecraft in polar orbits.
Starlink Assures FCC It Will Cooperate With OneWeb and Kepler In Polar Orbit Operations
The application was filed in the FCC’s International Bureau’s filing system in mid-June and the Commission accepted it for filing purposes earlier this month. It seeks the regulatory body’s approval to temporarily operate Starlink satellites at latitudes higher than 53 degrees, which constitute remote regions of the Earth where Internet connectivity is hard to come by.
Starlink uses its satellites to transfer data between users with dishes to its ground stations. The ground stations then carry the data to the internet servers, after which they beam it back up to the spacecraft to complete the cycle SpaceX has built dozens of these stations all over the US, but placing them in the remote polar regions is harder than installing them in CONUS.
For these purposes, the company has focused on launching satellites with inter-optical connectivity, or lasers, to serve the polar regions. This was confirmed by SpaceX chief Mr. Elon Musk early last year, when he outlined that all satellites going up this year will feature lasers, and that his company had limited itself to launch the polar spacecraft back then only to regions.
In its application, Starlink explains to the FCC that the request is only temporary in nature as through it it will operate the satellites at a 10 degree elevation. Starlink is currently authorized to operate its satellites at a higher 25 degree elevation, and it outlined that the lower angles are a “stop gap” measure before the constellation is capable of providing service at 25 degrees. Lower angles allow for less spacecraft being able to communicate with the user terminals but also result in poor communication due to longer distances and terrain characteristics.
According to Starlink:
This application requests carefully limited, temporary authority to authorize communications between SpaceX satellites and user terminals at elevation angles no less than 10 degrees in polar regions — ie, at latitudes above 53 degrees. This application does not seek authority to deploy any additional satellites or earth stations. It also does not seek any change in the technical or operating characteristics of the satellites and earth stations the Commission has already authorized, except for this narrow change to the minimum elevation angle observed in polar regions. This stop-gap operation will enable SpaceX to speed deployment of its high-speed, low-latency service to the polar of the United States in the interim period before SpaceX’s system is sufficiently to provide polar service at its already authorized 25-degree minimum elevation angle.
Because of the lower angles, SpaceX also addresses that its rivals might have. It assures the Commission that the 10 degree elevation will result in less interference with OneWeb’s satellites since they operate at 45 degrees or higher. Additionally, it also intends to with Kepler based on data shared.
Starlink has recently opened up its service to mobile users in recreational vehicles, and as it struggles with excessive demand in some areas, the service has also started to warn users of low speeds during peak times.