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May 2018


SpaceX Has Started Building A Network Of 4,425 Satellites To Deliver Broadband, Globally.

End March 2018, US regulator - the FCC approved SpaceX's 'Starlink' proposal to provide seamless broadband globally, via a network of 4,425 satellites.

"I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application and moving to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans," gushed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell said "We appreciate the FCC's thorough review and approval of SpaceX's constellation license. Although we still have much to do with this complex undertaking, this is an important step toward SpaceX building a next-generation satellite network that can link the globe with reliable and affordable broadband service, especially reaching those who are not yet connected."


SpaceX eventually plans to launch 12,000 satellites, but FCC's authorization is for the high-altitude group of 4,425 satellites.

Separate authorisations will be necessary for the remaining number, since they will be operating at a different altitude and radio frequency.


The proposed service, which will be called Starlink, was opposed by several existing satellite operators like Richard Branson's OneWeb and Spire. They expressed concern that another operator in space - especially one that wants to launch thousands of satellites - will crowd both spectrum and orbit.

Branson's OneWeb plans a similar constellation of approximately 700 satellites & has already procured communication frequency licenses for their broadcast spectrum.

OneWeb asked that SpaceX satellites shouldn't be allowed to be deployed within 125 kilometers of altitude of its own. The request was turned down by the FCC.

However, the FCC approval requires SpaceX to provide for an extensive orbital debris mitigation plan. SpaceX will have to provide more studies on this by the time it finalizes its designs and starts launching.


On 29 March 2018, a SpaceX Falcon rocket launched 2 of these satellites, for initial tests.

Starlink Projects A $ 30 Billion Revenue By 2025


The FCC approval requires atleast 50% of the 4,425 satellites must be orbited and operational by March 29, 2024 (6 years), or the entire project's FCC approval will lapse.

Several earlier large satellite constellations to deliver broadband via satellite have failed commercially and shut down. Industry observers therefore remain sceptical that Starlink will commercially sustain itself for even the first 6 years.

Internal documents leaked in February 2017 indicate that SpaceX expects more than US$30 billion in revenue by 2025 from its satellite constellation while revenues by its launch business are expected to reach US$5 billion in the same year.


Starlink is a satellite constellation proposed by SpaceX, to develop lowcost, highperformance satellites & customer ground transceivers to implement a new space-based Internet communication system.

SpaceX plans to also sell these satellites to others, for scientific purposes.

Starlink is to provide broadband internet connectivity to underserved areas of the planet, as well as competitivelypriced service to urban areas.

Starlink will not compete with Iridium satellite constellation, which is designed to link directly to handsets.

Starlink will have small ground terminals to receive the satellite signals and then distribute them on the ground.


The Starlink constellation will consist of 2 layers of satellites in 2 levels of orbit. each satellite will weigh between 100 Kgs to 500 Kgs.


4,425 satellites will first be put into Low Earth orbit (LEO) at a height of approximately 1,200 Kms. This will be completed by 2024.


Later, an additional 7,518 satellites will be launched & operate at a much lower orbit of just 340 kilometres altitude.


Satellite-to-satellite links will be via optical wireless links (above 10,000 GHz) and Ka & Ku band microwaves.


The satellites will downlink in the V band (40 to 75 GHz).

The V band is not heavily used, except radar & other scientific research.

In the USA, the 57 to 71 GHz spectrum is available for unlicensed wireless systems, typically used for high capacity, short distance (less than 1 mile) communications.

The V band requires unobstructed line of sight between the transmit and receive points & is affected by rain and snow.

Starlink Will Provide The Same Latency As Terrestrial Fibre Or Cable


The Low Earth Orbit (LEO) of the Starlink satellites (See Figure 1), provides a much shorter path and therefore smaller delays / latency between satellite & ground communication.

Starlink satellites would orbit at 1/30 of geostationary orbits, and thus offer latencies around 25 to 35 milli-seconds, comparable to currently existing cable or fiber networks.


Starlink satellites will downlink to ground terminals the size of a pizza box, which will have phased array antennas and track the satellites. The terminals can be mounted anywhere, as long as they can see the sky. The phased arrays will virtually steer the receiver and lock it to the closest Starlink satellite.

Efforts are on to ensure that these terminals cost less than US$ 200 each. This goal is likely to be achieved only after 2020.


The Starlink project promises much, and also needs to surmount many technical and financial hurdles.

However, its founder - Elon Musk (see box) has successfully marketed seemingly impossible projects like the Tesla Electric car, SpaceX and Neuralink.

Will he succeed again? n

Elon Musk (born June 28, 1971) is a South African-born business magnate & genius engineer. He taught himself computer programming at the age of 12.

He has founded, SpaceX (aerospace); Tesla (Electric cars & Solar panels) & Neuralink (brain-computer interfaces).

In December 2016, he was ranked 21st on the Forbes list of The World's Most Powerful People. As of February 2018, he has a net worth of $20.8 billion and is listed by Forbes as the 53rd richest person in the world.

He co-founded Zip2, a web software company, which was sold to Compaq for $340 million in 1999.

Musk then founded, an online payment company which later became PayPal & was bought by eBay for $1.5 billion in October 2002.

His risk-taking and engineering genius have enabled him to create PayPal, built America's first successful fully electric car company, become USA's biggest solar energy supplier, and successfully develop from scratch a reusable, low cost liquid fuel rocket capable of launching big satellites in geo orbit.