Boeing is given green light by FCC to launch 147 internet satellites

Boeing is given green light by FCC to launch 147 satellites to provide broadband internet, despite complaints from Elon Musk’s SpaceX about interference with its rival network

  • Boeing got FCC approval to start building its internet satellite constellation 
  • The firm will start with 147 devices,  132 of which will sit 656 miles above Earth’s surface and the rest will be located up to 27,000 miles above the surface
  • Those in a higher orbit will be non-geostationary satellites, meaning they do not have a set position but will follow Earth’s rotation
  • The application, first filed in 2017, was met with criticism by SpaceX, which said the satellites would cause interference  

Boeing received approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) late on Wednesday to begin building an internet satellite constellation in Earth’s orbit. 

The application, which was initially filed in 2017, is to launch and operate 147 satellites to provide high-speed broadband internet worldwide.

Boeing plans to deploy 132 devices 656 miles above Earth’s surface, while the rest will be non-geostationary that sit more than 27,000 miles above the surface as they follow the planet’s rotation. 

Boeing’s petition to the FCC was met with pushback from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which said it presented a ‘clear danger of harmful interference’ to other systems, according to Reuters.

However, Boeing’s constellation could outperform SpaceX’s Starlink in that its satellites are set to broadcast in the V-band, which is a high-frequency wireless spectrum that refers to frequencies ranging from 40 to 75 gigahertz.

Starlink uses Ka- and Ku- bands, which commercial airlines utilize for in-flight internet access that has frequencies ranging from 12 to 18 gigahertz. 

Boeing will also operate in both low-Earth orbit and medium Earth orbit, while SpaceX ‘s Starlink satellites are only situated in low-Earth orbit. 

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Boeing received approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday to begin building an internet satellite constellation in Earth’s orbit. The application, which was initially filed in 2017 , is to launch and operate 147 satellites to provide high-speed broadband internet worldwide

‘Boeing sees a multi-orbit future for satellite technologies,’ Boeing said in a statement.

‘As the demand for satellite communications grows, diversity will be required across orbital regimes and frequencies to satisfy unique customer demands, and we see V-band as helping to provide some of that diversity.’

According to Boeing’s application, it first plans to serve users in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands before expanding its reach globally.

‘The system will extend terrestrial networks to provide broadband access to all Americans, especially in rural and remote areas,’ Boeing shared in the document.

According to Boeing’s application, it first plans to serve users in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands before expanding its reach globally

However, Boeing’s constellation could outperform SpaceX’s Starlink in that its satellites are set to broadcast in the V-band, which is a high-frequency wireless spectrum that refers to frequencies ranging from 40 to 75 gigahertz. Pictured is an animation of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation upon completion

Starlink uses Ka- and Ku- bands, which commercial airlines utilize for in-flight internet access that has frequencies ranging from 12 to 18 gigahertz

‘This will help fulfill the mandate and regulatory objectives for universal broadband access. In addition, as the deployment phases are completed, this 147-satellite system will provide high speed data connectivity for people around the world.’

SpaceX has been leading the internet satellite industry with its more than 1,740 Starlink internet satellites in orbit that provide at least 90,000 users with service.

The Musk-led company petitioned the FCC in 2019 claiming Boeing’s would cause interference, but the FCC rejected SpaceX’s argument that Boeing should face additional requirements.

‘SpaceX raises concerns about interference from Boeing’s uplink beams to its highly inclined satellites and recommends that Boeing utilize higher gain antennas on those satellites with corresponding reductions in uplink power levels. We decline to adopt SpaceX’s proposal,’ the FCC said.

Now Boeing is in a race with not only SpaceX, but Amazon’s Project Kuiper and UK-based OneWeb as well.

OneWeb, on the other hand, has not made as much noise and is slowly building its constellation – it currently has 322 internet satellites in space

Amazon received approval from the FCC on November 1 to launch its first two satellites into orbit, which will be used as tests for its upcoming constellation of 3,236 devices.

However, Amazon and SpaceX have also been at odds on who dominates, as the Jeff Bezos-founded company petitioned the FCC to prohibit SpaceX from modifying parts of its Starlink satellites, CNBC reported in February.

While Amazon said that it ‘supports the ability of operators to modify their system designs,’ the company argues the changes are too complex and should not be approved – thus grounding future Starlink batches. The FCC has yet to make a final decision. 

OneWeb, on the other hand, has not made as much noise and is slowly building its constellation – it currently has 322 internet satellites in space. 

THE BILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE: HOW BRANSON, MUSK AND BEZOS ARE VYING FOR GALACTIC SUPREMACY

Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin’s space capsule

Dubbed the ‘NewSpace’ set, Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk all say they were inspired by the first moon landing in 1969, when the US beat the Soviet Union in the space race, and there is no doubt how much it would mean to each of them to win the ‘new space race’.

Amazon founder Bezos had looked set to be the first of the three to fly to space, having announced plans to launch aboard his space company Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on July 20, but Branson beat him to the punch.

The British billionaire became Virgin Galactic Astronaut 001 when he made it to space on a suborbital flight nine days before Bezos – on July 11 in a test flight.

Bezos travelled to space on July 20 with his younger brother Mark, Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old physics student whose dad purchased his ticket, and pioneering female astronaut Wally Funk, 82.

Although SpaceX and Tesla founder Musk has said he wants to go into space, and even ‘die on Mars’, he has not said when he might blast into orbit – but has purchased a ticket with Virgin Galactic for a suborbital flight.

SpaceX became the first of the ‘space tourism’ operators to send a fully civilian crew into orbit, with the Inspiration4 mission funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman. 

His flight was on a Dragon capsule and SpaceX rocket built by space-obsessed billionaire, Elon Musk and took off for the three day orbital trip on September 16 – going higher than the International Space Station. 

SpaceX appears to be leading the way in the broader billionaire space race with numerous launches carrying NASA equipment to the ISS and partnerships to send tourists to space by 2021.  

On February 6 2018, SpaceX sent rocket towards the orbit of Mars, 140 million miles away, with Musk’s own red Tesla roadster attached. 

Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule

SpaceX has also taken two groups of astronauts to the |International Space Station, with crew from NASA, ESA and JAXA, the Japanese space agency. 

SpaceX has been sending batches of 60 satellites into space to help form its Starlink network, which is already in beta and providing fast internet to rural areas. 

Branson and Virgin Galactic are taking a different approach to conquering space. It has repeatedly, and successfully, conducted test flights of the Virgin Galactic’s Unity space plane. 

The first took place in December 2018 and the latest on May 22, with the flight accelerating to more than 2,000 miles per hour (Mach 2.7). 

More than 600 affluent customers to date, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have reserved a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space trips. The final tickets are expected to cost $350,000.

Branson has previously said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket firm SpaceX. 

Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft

SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows – one to the side and one overhead.

The space ship is 60ft long with a 90inch diameter cabin allowing maximum room for the astronauts to float in zero gravity.

It climbs to 50,000ft before the rocket engine ignites. SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier craft, White Knight II, once it has passed the 50-mile mark.

Passengers become ‘astronauts’ when they reach the Karman line, the boundary of Earth’s atmosphere.

The spaceship will then make a suborbital journey with approximately six minutes of weightlessness, with the entire flight lasting approximately 1.5 hours.

Bezos revealed in April 2017 that he finances Blue Origin with around $1 billion (£720 million) of Amazon stock each year.

The system consists of a pressurised crew capsule atop a reusable ‘New Shepard’ booster rocket.    

At its peak, the capsule reached 65 miles (104 kilometres), just above the official threshold for space and landed vertically seven minutes after liftoff. 

Blue Origin are working on New Glenn, the next generation heavy lift rocket, that will compete with the SpaceX Falcon 9. 

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