FCC gives SpaceX OK to launch 7.5k Gen2 Starlink satellites
Subject to conditions: offer only valid if you can get Starship off the ground
The FCC has granted SpaceX permission to launch its Gen2 Starlink satellites, assuming it can adhere to a bevy of conditions, including ensuring Musk's expanded satellite constellation doesn't interfere with other space operations or become an environmental risk.
SpaceX's application asks the FCC to let it launch 29,988 Gen2 Starlink satellites, but the FCC only granted permission for up to 7,500, citing concerns about creating orbital debris. As of October, the FCC said, SpaceX is operating a network of more than 3,500 Gen1 Starlink satellites out of the 4,425 it granted authorization for in 2018.
"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," the FCC said.
In addition to serving rural areas of the US, the FCC said Starlink Gen2 satellites would also enable "worldwide satellite broadband service" that could close the global digital divide.
Starlink's Gen2 satellites have been described by Musk as being "an order of magnitude" more powerful than Gen1 satellites but that doesn't matter at all, at least for now: the satellites are too heavy to launch, and that's straight from the mouth of Musk himself.
"We need Starship to get to orbit because it's the only thing that can carry the Starlink 2 satellites," Musk said in an interview earlier this year.
Starlink's Gen2 satellites are massive, weighing in at around 1.25 tons and measuring 7 meters (22 feet) in length. While that's less than the weight capacity of Falcon 9, SpaceX's current operational rocket, Falcon's max load would mean it couldn't carry enough Starlink Gen2s to make the launch worth it.
Starship has yet to reach orbit, for now, and several of the test flights have ended in crashes or explosions.
At the end of October, NASA said it expected SpaceX to achieve an orbital Starship flight at some point this year, but we're quickly running out of time. SpaceX hasn't actually flown a Starship prototype since May of last year, although that test was largely successful.
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Starship is designed to be an all-in-one launch, travel and landing system, and along with ferrying satellites. It has been awarded a contract by NASA to deliver humans to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis III mission currently planned for 2025.
Conditional on that is SpaceX conducting an uncrewed demonstration mission to the Moon prior to Artemis III, giving Musk's rocket company little time to go from sub-orbital to Moon-capable.
Of interest is a quick note that the FCC made in its approval: SpaceX recently informed it that it plans to orbit Gen2 Starlink satellites using both Starship and Falcon 9 vehicles. Whether that's a pointer to more Starship delays, or simply Elon getting impatient for a win, is unknown. ®