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FCC lets SpaceX cut satellite altitude to improve Starlink speed and latency

2021-04-28 14:50 by
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The Federal Communications Commission approved a modification of SpaceX's license for its Starlink constellation, allowing the company to operate more than 2,800 additional satellites in lower orbits.

The FCC authorized SpaceX to lower the primary operational altitude for 2,814 of its satellites from an originally specified range of between 1,100 to 1,200 kilometers (684 to 746 miles) to a range between 540 and 570 kilometers (336 to 354 miles). That's in addition to 1,584 satellites previously cleared for the lower set of orbits.

The FCC found that allowing lower orbits for Starlink satellites "does not create significant interference problems." Lowering the orbits, it said, allows SpaceX to make "safety-focused” changes to the constellation, like being able to more quickly discard any dead or broken satellites by steering them toward a fiery end in Earth's atmosphere.

The approval came with some conditions: SpaceX must coordinate with other operators to ensure signals from Starlink satellites don't interfere with others. The company will need to provide semiannual reports to the FCC on Starlink failures. Those reports will also list any "conjunction events" or any maneuvers or close calls with other satellites.

Also, the FCC urged SpaceX to continue to work closely with astronomers to mitigate the brightness of its satellites. "Although we do not find that the record before us merits preparation of an EA under NEPA, we conclude that it nonetheless would serve the public interest under the Communications Act for SpaceX to ensure that it does not unduly burden astronomy and other research endeavors," it stated. "Accordingly, we will continue to monitor this situation and SpaceX’s efforts to achieve its commitments in this record."

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