Planned Comsat Constellations Now Exceed 94,000 Satellites

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A wave of new applications submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week for approval for communications satellites operating in the V band has sent the number of spacecraft in large constellations soaring to nearly 100,000.

A list compiled by Parabolic Arc shows that 94,255 satellites are included in the constellations. That number includes 29,439 satellites approved by the FCC or in development in China. The FCC has applicants pending before it for another 64,816 satellites.

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Astra Space Applies to Launch More than 13,000 Satellites; Proposed Broadband Constellations Exceed 79,000 Spacecraft

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Astra Space has applied to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the launch more than 13,000 communications satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO), joining SpaceX, OneWeb, Amazon and other companies seeking to provide broadband services across the globe. The application brings the number of proposed satellites in these constellations to more than 79,000.

“The Astra Constellation as proposed would ultimately consist of as many as 13,620 operational LEO satellites, supported by a global network of gateway earth stations utilizing the identified V-band frequency bands for feeder links for space-to-earth transmit and receive,” the company’s application said.

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FCC Authorizes Boeing’s 132 Satellite Broadband Constellation

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2021 (FCC PR) — The Federal Communications Commission today approved an application from The Boeing Company for a license to construct, deploy, and operate a satellite constellation. As detailed in its FCC application, Boeing plans to provide broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental, and professional users in the United States and globally.

“Advanced satellite broadband services have an important role to play in connecting hard-to-serve communities,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We are committed to a careful and detailed review of all such applications and I thank the International Bureau team for their work completing this first round of NGSO applications.”

Today’s Order approves Boeing’s application for non-geostationary orbit fixed-satellite service system using frequencies in portions of the V-band (the 37.5-40, 40-42, 47.2-50.2 and 50.4-51.4 GHz bands), and to operate inter-satellite links (ISLs) using frequencies in portions of the V-band (65-71 GHz band). It also dismisses Boeing’s request to operate ISLs in certain frequency bands that are not allocated internationally for operations of the FSS in the space-to-space direction in the ITU Radio Regulations.

SpaceX, Dish Network Engaged in Battle Over Frequency Use

Sixty Starlink satellites separate from a Falcon 9 second stage on April 22, 2020. (Credit: SpaceX website)

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating story about the fight between SpaceX and Dish Network over frequency allocation. While SpaceX is spending billions to deploying thousands of satellites for its global Starlink broadband network, Dish Network wants the Federal Communications Commission to allow it to send Internet signals via cell phone towers.

In later filings with the FCC, Mr. Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, told the regulator it needed those airwaves, which sit above 12 gigahertz on the wireless spectrum, free and clear for its Starlink swarm of satellites to beam high-speed broadband internet service to disconnected homes across the country. SpaceX didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.

The Tesla billionaire’s main antagonist in this case is Dish Network Corp. Chairman Charlie Ergen, another mogul with a history of tangling with regulators. Mr. Ergen’s Dish and his allies—who include Dell Computer founder Michael Dell through his personal investment fund, MSD Capital—are pressing the government to allow cellphone towers to send high-speed internet signals over the same airwaves. SpaceX and fellow satellite operator OneWeb oppose changes that they say threaten their goal of expanding internet access from the skies….

This is the kind of skirmish that companies often wage in Washington over finite resources subject to government rules—but with more-prominent personalities and a nastier edge than most telecom disputes. Fights over wireless spectrum are becoming increasingly common as technological advances like 5G let companies stream data in ways considered impossible a few years ago, spurring new demand for space on the airwaves to carry those signals.

SpaceX says its new Starlink broadband service is already providing cablelike internet speeds to more than 90,000 customers. The FCC granted the company $885 million in incentives to provide more connections to areas of the U.S. that lack true broadband. Dish and its allies argue that looser rules for the 12 GHz frequencies would help the company build a network that will connect smartphones, factory machines and vehicle sensors with the kind of ultrafast internet speeds that 5G promises to deliver.

The story says that Musk was adamant in a phone with the FCC’s then-Chairman Ajit Pai that the regulatory agency not open the frequency for Dish Network to provide services via cell phone towers due to the threat it posed to Starlink.

It will be interesting to see how this battle plays out here and abroad. The U.S. is likely not on the only country where this move is being considered.

FCC Makes Available Over $163 Million for Broadband in 21 States, While Continuing to Clean Up the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Program

WASHINGTON, October 7, 2021 (FCC PR) — The FCC today announced that it is ready to authorize $163,895,636 to 42 providers in the second round of funding for new broadband deployments through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The Commission is also continuing its work to refocus the program to ensure that funding goes to unserved areas that need broadband. As part of that process, 85 winning bidders have chosen not to pursue buildout in 5,089 census blocks in response to letters the FCC sent asking applicants to review their bids in areas where there was evidence of existing service or questions of potential waste.

“More help is on the way to households without broadband,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This is an important program for getting more Americans connected to high-speed internet, and we are continuing careful oversight of this process to ensure that providers meet their obligations to deploy in areas that need it.”

In this funding wave, 42 broadband providers will bring fiber-to-the-home gigabit broadband to approximately 65,000 locations in 21 states over the next 10 years. The Commission continues to closely review long-form applications of other winning bidders that were previously announced to ensure they meet the technical, financial, and operational capabilities to comply with program obligations.

In July, the Commission sent letters to 197 winning bidders offering providers an opportunity to withdraw their funding requests from places where there was evidence of service or where questions of waste have been raised. In response to these letters, numerous winning bidders have conducted new due diligence on the areas in question, and many have decided not to pursue support in the identified areas.

Chairwoman Johnson and Ranking Member Lucas Call for Standards to Avoid Spectrum Interference

Eddie Bernice Johnson

WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) — Today, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), along with Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), sent letters to the Commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expressing concerns about out-of-band emission (OOBE) limits to protect the integrity of global weather forecasting, satellite-based climate measurements, and ground-based radio astronomy observations in the 23.6-24 GHz band.

“We urge the FCC to modify section 30.203 of its rules to fully conform its domestic OOBE limits for the 24 GHz band with the international limits articulated in Resolution 750,” said Chairwoman Johnson and Ranking Member Lucas in the letter. “We also ask that FCC pay particular attention to the docket filings by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, National Academies’ Committee on Radio Interference, American Meteorological Society, American Geophysical Union, and National Weather Association on implementation questions that would have a significant impact on reducing the threat of harmful interference with passive earth science observations.”

The Chair and Ranking Member continued, “We thank you for examining these technical questions carefully in its efforts to craft a final rule that is adequately protective of Earth Exploration Satellite Service (EESS).  The issues associated with the 24 GHz band are not unique. The FCC is considering spectrum auctions that could affect other bands currently protected for scientific purposes and used by federal agencies.”

A copy of the letters can be found here:

FCC Provides $311 Million for Broadband in 36 States, Takes Steps to Clean up Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Program

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2021 (FCC PR) — The FCC today took its first steps to move forward with funding new broadband deployments across the country through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The FCC announced that it is ready to authorize over $311 million in broadband funding across 36 states through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. At the same time, the agency took steps to clean up issues with the program’s design originating from its adoption in 2020.

“This is a significant down payment on broadband deployment,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Today’s announcement means that help is on the way for hundreds of thousands of Americans without access to broadband.”

Today’s action represents the first funding to be approved through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. As a result of today’s announcement, 48 broadband providers will bring 1 Gbps broadband speeds to nearly 200,000 homes and businesses over the next 10 years.

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Launch 2020: U.S. Reclaimed Top Spot, Flew Astronauts Again from American Soil

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The United States reclaimed the top spot in launches from China last year as NASA astronauts flew into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly nine years, SpaceX deployed the world’s first satellite mega-constellation with reused rockets, and two new launchers debuted with less than stellar results.

American companies conducted 44 launches in 2020, with 40 successes and four failures. Bryce Tech reports that U.S. companies accounted for 32 of the 41 commercial launches conducted last year. The majority of those flights were conducted by SpaceX, which launched 25 orbital missions.

China came in second with a record of 35 successful launches and four failures. The 39 launch attempts tied that nation’s previous record for flights during a calendar year.

Let’s take a closer look at what U.S. companies achieved last year.

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Fun with Figures: Move Over Starlink, Here Comes China’s Satellite Mega-Constellation

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Chinese government recently formed a company to develop a satellite mega-constellation that would exceed SpaceX’s rival Starlink communications network in size, according to media reports.

The newly created China Satellite Network Group Co. will oversee the development of a communications satellite constellation that will include 12,992 satellites. China has filed for spectrum allocation for the constellation with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The Chinese constellation would be the largest in the world with 1,049 more satellites than the 11,943 Starlink satellites approved by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Together, the Chinese and Starlink satellites would place 24,935 satellites into Earth orbit.

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SpaceX Lays Out Plan for Starship Orbital Flight Test

Super Heavy/Starship system in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX has laid out plans to launch its Starship vehicle on a 90-minute flight test from Boca Chica, Texas, to a soft ocean landing about 100 km (62 miles) off the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The flight would take place no earlier than June 20.

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SpaceX Launches 60 More Starlink Satellites

Credit: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, Fla. — On Wednesday, March 24 at 4:28 a.m. EDT, SpaceX launched 60 Starlink broadband satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

It was SpaceX’s ninth launch and the 25th launch worldwide of 2021. Seven Falcon 9 boosters have launched 420 Starlink satellites into orbit this year.

SpaceX has now launched 1,385 Starlink satellites, with 1,321 currently in orbit. Elon Musk’s company has received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to launch nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites to provide broadband services worldwide.

This was the sixth launch and landing of this Falcon 9 first stage booster, which previously supported launch of GPS-III Space Vehicle 03, Turksat 5A, and three Starlink missions.

One half of Falcon 9’s fairing supported the Sentinel-6A mission and the other supported a previous Starlink mission.

Umbra Hits Regulatory “Jackpot” for its Satellite Constellation Able to See a Soda Can from Space

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (Umbra PR) — Umbra, a geospatial intelligence data provider, was granted a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate its Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite with 1,200 MHz of bandwidth. This bandwidth allocation will allow them to generate images with as low as 15-centimeter (6 inch) ground sampling distance (GSD). At this resolution, Umbra’s satellites will be able to detect items as small as a soda can from space.

Umbra is the first commercial satellite provider in U.S. history to receive a license enabling this level of capability from space. Umbra, which recently raised $32 million, pushed their chips “all in” on capability and patented technology, which had never been attempted by a commercial firm or approved by a U.S. regulatory body.

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Russia Prepares to Launch OneWeb Satellites From its Spaceport of the Future

OneWeb satellites being prepared for launch aboard a Soyuz-2.1b booster from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Russia is preparing for launch number six from the troubled and little used Vostochny Cosmodrome in the nation’s Far East.

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket is set to launch 36 OneWeb satellites on Dec. 18. The new batch of satellites will add to the 74 OneWeb spacecraft previously launched.

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Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction to Expand Broadband to Over 10 Million Americans

Rural broadband services to be provided with government funding. (Credit: FCC)

Phase I Auction Allocates $9.2 Billion to Close the Digital Divide in 49 States and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

WASHINGTON, December 7, 2020 (FCC PR) —The Federal Communications Commission announced today that millions of rural Americans in 49 states and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands will gain access to high-speed Internet service through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction.

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