Starlink 12K: Elon Musk’s Big Gamble on Global Satellite Internet

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s plan to provide high-speed communications to virtually any location on Earth got a big boost this week when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the company’s plan to add 7,518 satellites to the company’s Starlink constellation.

The action brings the total number of satellites in Starlink to 11,943 following the FCC’s earlier approval of 4,425 spacecraft last year.

Starlink is Musk’s ambitious entry into the global satellite Internet race. He is gambling big that there is a sufficient market worldwide to make the constellation profitable.

SpaceX launched two test Starlink test satellites into orbit earlier this year. Published reports say Musk wants to launch the first batch of satellites in the middle of next year, with service to begin in 2020.

Starlink is facing competition from OneWeb, which is planning to launch a constellation of 882 satellites to provide similar service. OneWeb plans to begin launching spacecraft next year.

The FCC also approved satellite broadband constellations by three other satellite companies last week. Telesat Canada received approval for an 117-satellite constellation while LeoSat plans to launch 78 spacecraft.

Kepler Communication’s 140-satellite constellation is focused on providing communications for the Internet of Things.

“These proposed satellite systems are expected to enable fixed satellite service in the United States, expanding global connectivity and advancing the goals of increasing high-speed broadband availability and competition in the marketplace,” the FCC said in a press release.

The constellations will greatly increase the number of satellites in Earth orbit. There are currently about 4,900 spacecraft in orbit out of the approximately 8,100 launched since the Space Age began in October 1957. Nearly 2,000 spacecraft are currently operational.

FCC Approves Satellite Constellations for SpaceX, Kepler, Telesat Canada & LeoSat

  • SpaceX constellation includes 7,518 satellite Internet spacecraft
  • Three other approved constellations total 335 satellites

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2018 (FCC PR) —  The Federal Communications Commission today approved the requests of four companies—Space Exploration Holdings, LLC (SpaceX), Kepler Communications, Inc. (Kepler), Telesat Canada (Telesat), and LeoSat MA, Inc. (LeoSat)—seeking to roll-out new and expanded services using proposed non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) satellites.

These proposed satellite systems are expected to enable fixed satellite service in the United States, expanding global connectivity and advancing the goals of increasing high-speed broadband availability and competition in the marketplace.

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Phasor and Kepler Usher in New Era of Satellite Communications

WASHINGTON, D.C./TORONTO, September 10, 2018 (Phasor/Kepler Communications PR) – Phasor, the developer of leading, enterprise-grade electronically-steerable antenna systems, and Kepler, a low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite operator and telecommunication services provider today announce successful tests between Kepler’s first in-orbit LEO nanosatellite and Phasor’s wideband electronically-steered antenna.

Kepler’s satellite, KIPP, launched in January, represents the first example of a wideband LEO satellite to have been auto-acquired, auto-tracked, and communicated with, by a commercial flat panel, electronically-steerable antenna.

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Kepler Contracts with Clyde Space to Build 6U IoT CubeSat

Credit: Kepler Communications

TORONTO (Kepler Communications PR) — Kepler has contracted leading UK small satellite manufacturer, ÅAC Clyde, for a 6U satellite bus in support of the machine-to-machine communications mission. This new platform, TARS, will be the third built by the company for Kepler’s growing constellation, offering satellite communication services for Internet of Things (IoT) and data backhaul applications. The mission is part of the UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult In-Orbit Demonstration Mission 5.

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University of Toronto Accelerator Launches Space Startup Stream With Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield (Credit: CSA)

TORONTO (University of Toronto News) — The Creative Destruction Lab has helped build dozens of futuristic companies over the years – now it’s seeking entrepreneurs whose ideas are literally out of this world.

Working closely with former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, the seed-stage accelerator affiliated with the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management is launching a dedicated stream for space startups working on everything from interplanetary transportation to asteroid mining.

The new stream seeks to attract space-focused entrepreneurs from around the world while providing entrepreneurial minded Canadian researchers at places like the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies, or UTIAS, with another way to get their innovative ideas off the ground.

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Fast Company Selects Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Space


Fast Company has released its annual list of the most innovative companies for 2018. The 10 top innovators in the space industry are shown above.

I’m a bit surprised by Stratolaunch landing at no. 10. The aircraft is impressive; I’ve seen it in person outside, and it’s positively Spruce Goosian in its size and ambition. And I’ve been on tarmacs walking around a 747 and an A380, which are also very large airplanes.

That being said, the reality is that the only rocket it available to launch is a Pegasus, whose primary launch aircraft is Orbital ATK’s 44-year old L-1011 that’s parked just down the flight line from the Stratolaunch hangar. They’re working on developing a larger booster for the giant aircraft, so maybe Stratolaunch will be as innovative as Fast Company believes it is at some point. Never say never.

It just seems that Burt Rutan got focused on building the coolest flying vehicle he could while the whole issue of the rocket was not as well thought through. A similar thing happened with SpaceShipTwo, contributing to years of delay.

The other thing is I heard last fall is the Stratolaunch aircraft might not fly until sometime well into next year. So, it could be a while before we see how well that thing actually performs in flight.

Kepler Communications Launches Demo Satellite for Ku-band Internet of Things Constellation

TORONTO, Jan. 22, 2018 (Kepler Communications PR) — A new era in space communications began on Friday, January 19 with the successful launch of an ultra-low-cost telecommunications satellite from Canada-based Kepler Communications. The mission serves as a technology demonstration for Kepler’s novel Ku-band telecommunications payload, and offers the best price per MHz of any communication satellite on the market.

With this launch, the Canadian start-up becomes the first commercial company ever to launch and successfully operate a LEO communications satellite in Ku-band. This highly valuable frequency band is ideal for telecommunication services, and is currently being sought for use by many companies planning on deploying mega-constellations of satellites. Kepler’s network of satellites will eventually enable in-space connectivity for other satellites, space stations, and transport vehicles.

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SpaceX Wants to Launch 12,000 Satellites

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has filed a new application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for approval to launch a constellation of 7,518 satellites to provide communications in the little used V band.

The system is in addition to  another constellations of 4,425 satellites (plus orbital spares) SpaceX proposed in November that would operate in the Ku and Ka bands. In total, the two constellations would have 11,943 spacecraft plus spares.

“When combined into a single, coordinated system, these ‘LEO’ and ‘VLEO’ constellations will enable SpaceX to provide robust broadband services on a full and continuous global basis,” SpaceX said in its application.

Competitor OneWeb has submitted a new application that would add an additional 2,000 satellites capable of operating in the V-band to its planned constellation of 720 satellites.

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Companies Propose Launching 8,700 Satellites into Non-Geosynchronous Orbit

OneWeb satellite. (Credit: Airbus Defence & Space)
OneWeb satellite. (Credit: Airbus Defence & Space)

While SpaceX has received most of the attention for its plan to launch more than 4,000 broadband satellite network, the constellation makes up just over half the number of spacecraft that companies have proposed placing in non-geosynchronous satellite orbit (NGSO).

Companies have filed applications with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 8,731 NGSO communications satellites. While most of the constellations would provide broadband and communications services, others would collect Earth observation data.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, NGSO spacecraft “occupy a range of orbital positions (LEO satellites are located between 700km-1,500km from the Earth, MEO satellites are located at 10,000km from the Earth), and do not maintain a stationary position, but instead move in relation to the Earth’s surface.”

SpaceX leads the pack with 4,425 spacecraft, followed by Boeing with 2,956 and WorldVu (aka, OneWeb) with 720. Boeing has a second application before the FCC for a constellation with 60 satellites.

The table below provides a summary of the applications filed with the FCC.

 NGSO APPLICATIONS BEFORE FCC
COMPANYLOCATION
NO. OF SATELLITES
BANDSSERVICES
SpaceXHawthorne, CA4,425Ka, KuGlobal broadband
BoeingSeattle, WA2,956VAdvanced communications, Internet-based services
WorldVu (OneWeb)Arlington, VA720KuGlobal broadband
Kepler CommunicationsToronto, ONT140KuMachine-to-machine communications (Internet of Things)
 Telesat CanadaOttawa, ONT117Ka Wide band and narrow band communications services
 Theia Holdings A, Inc.Philadelphia, PA112KaIntegrated Earth observation and communications network
Spire GlobalSan Francisco, CA100KaMaritime monitoring, meteorological monitoring, and earth imaging services
 LeoSat MAPompano Beach, FL80KaBroadband services
BoeingSeattle, WA60KaVery high speed connectivity for end-user earth stations
 O3bWashington, DC60KaBroadband services
ViaSat  Carlsbad, CA24Ka, VBroadband services
 Karousel LLCAlexandria, VA12KaCommunications
Audacy CommunicationsWalnut, CA3K, VData relay constellation providing satellite operators with seamless access to NGSO satellites
Space Norway ASOslo, Norway2Ka, KuArctic broadband

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Links to Parabolic Arc’s Coverage of Small Satellite 2016 Conference

SkyFire’s new infrared technology will help NASA enhance its knowledge of the lunar surface. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)
SkyFire’s new infrared technology will help NASA enhance its knowledge of the lunar surface. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

The Small Satellite 2016 Conference is now over. Below are links to Parabolic Arc’s coverage of the conference and the CubeSat Workshop that preceded it last weekend. There are also links to announcements made during the conference and in recent weeks.

Small Satellite Conference Coverage

Recent Smallsat News & Announcements

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Kepler Communications Raises $5 Million for Internet of Things CubeSats

kepler_logoTORONTO (Kepler Communications PR) — Kepler Communications announces today it has raised $5 million in an oversubscribed seed round led by Manhattan-based IA Ventures – known for their investment in Digital Ocean and X.ai. Other investors include Liquid 2 Ventures (Joe Montana’s investment vehicle), Techstars, Globalive Capital, BDC, and a number of high profile angel investors.

“IA Ventures invested in Kepler because we believe this infrastructure is needed to advance our society that continues to stretch the carrying capacity of the Earth,” Brad Gillespie, Partner at IA Ventures.

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