SpaceX first asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to deploy 29,988 second-generation Starlink satellites back in 2020. Now, the FCC has granted its request — partially, at least. The commission has given the company the go-ahead to build, deploy and operate up to 7,500 satellites for its Gen2 constellation at the altitudes of 525 km, 530 km and 535 km. In its announcement, the FCC said approving 7,500 satellites for the constellation will allow SpaceX to provide broadband internet to users worldwide, even those living in far-flung areas.
The FCC is limiting the number of satellites SpaceX can deploy for now, though, to address concerns about orbital debris and space safety. It says the limited grant will help maintain a safe space environment and protect other satellite and terrestrial operators from harmful interference. Several companies and even NASA previously raised concerns about SpaceX’s plan to deploy an additional 30,000 satellites, considering the FCC already granted it permission to launch 12,000 first-gen Starlink satellites.
In NASA’s letter to the commission, it talked about an expanded constellation’s potential impacts to its science and human spaceflight missions. A massive number of Starlink satellites, it said, could cause an increase in collision risks and lead to fewer launch windows. That said, the FCC is only deferring “action on the remainder of SpaceX’s application” for now, so it may approve additional deployments.
SpaceX chief Elon Musk previously revealed that the second-gen Starlink satellites will be much bigger than their predecessor and will need to be launch on the company’s Starship launch vehicle. One of the reasons they’re bigger is because of their massive antennas that will have the capability to communicate with phones here on Earth, like mobile towers in the sky. Indeed, the the collaboration T-Mobile and SpaceX announced in August will depend on Starlink’s second-gen satellites. The companies aim to end mobile deadzones with their partnership and to provide connectivity wherever there’s a clear view of the sky, even if it’s in the middle of the ocean.