SpaceX is slated to launch the latest batch of 60 internet-beaming satellites for its ever-growing Starlink constellation on the night of June 3. Once this mission takes off, SpaceX will have launched a little more than 480 of its Starlink satellites into orbit. That’s only a small fraction of the nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites that the company has permission to launch. The goal of the massive project is to provide global internet coverage from space.
Early in 2020, SpaceX became the operator of the world’s largest active satellite constellation, with 180 satellites orbiting the planet. The milestone is a mere starting point for Starlink, SpaceX’s ambitious project to provide internet capabilities to every inch of the globe. To get that kind of connectivity, the company wants the option to launch up to 42,000 satellites over the next decade. That’s about 21 times the number of operational satellites currently in space — and the true impact of the company’s nascent mega-constellation is still very much a mystery.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched to the International Space Station recently carried a tiny package that could eventually lead to the smartphone you have in your pocket getting cell service from space. If it works, the instrument could be a precursor to a giant constellation of thousands of mini-satellites that function as cell towers circulating all over the globe. The package is the product of a startup called UbiquitiLink, the latest company to propose putting a mega-constellation of satellites into low orbit above Earth.
The Federal Communications Commission has approved SpaceX’s request to fly a large swath of its internet-beaming satellites at a lower orbit than originally planned. The approval was a major regulatory hurdle the company needed to clear in order to start launching its first operational satellites from Florida in May 2019. Under SpaceX’s original agreement with the FCC, the company had permission to launch 4,425 Starlink satellites into orbits that ranged between 1,110 to 1,325 kilometers up.
Aerospace startup Swarm Technologies, which has grand ambitions of providing low-cost internet connectivity with 100 tiny satellites and which infamously launched four satellites without a federal license in Jan, has received permission from the Federal Communications Commission to launch a new crop of satellites later in 2018. The approval comes while the FCC is still deciding whether to take any retaliatory action against Swarm for the unauthorized January launch.
Earlier in 2018, a space startup from Silicon Valley launched four of its first prototype communications satellites on top of an Indian rocket. Except the Federal Communications Commission says that the company didn’t have authorization to send up those spacecraft from the US government. The four satellites reportedly belong to a fledgling company called Swarm Technologies, which was started by former Google and NASA JPL engineer Sara Spangelo in 2016.