The FCC authorized SpaceX to launch up to 7,500 Starlink v2 satellites. SpaceX had initially applied to launch 30,000 satellites. However, the FCC expressed concern that launching that many satellites would clutter up low Earth orbit and deferred a decision on launching the rest of the full 30,000.
SpaceX has already begun manufacturing the Starlink v2 satellites. Elon Musk says they will be bigger and more capable than the existing v1 satellites.
The v2 satellites are nearly five times as massive as the v1 satellites, potentially making them unsuitable for launch on SpaceX’s workhorse, the Falcon 9 rocket. Musk plans to launch them on Starship as soon as it becomes operational – which is taking longer than Musk originally planned due to likely bureaucratic hangups with the FAA.
(Yes, Musk has previously blistered the FAA for its seemingly sulky attitude toward regulating space operations.)
The FCC placed some conditions on launching the 7,500 Starlink v2 satellites. SpaceX has to coordinate with other satellite operators, NASA, and the National Science Foundation to protect assets and prevent interference with science missions.
SpaceX already has a memorandum of understanding with NASA to exchange data on assets in orbit. NASA’s important orbiting assets include iconic projects like the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope. It also has several Earth-observation satellites in orbit.
Competitors like ViaSat have lodged their own challenges to the FCC’s prior approvals of Starlink satellite launches, claiming that the proposed launch of that many satellites fails to consider environmental concerns. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk seemed somewhat dismissive of their complaints, implying that they just disliked competition.
However, their complaints failed to slow down SpaceX’s frequent launch of new Starlink satellites. It can add to its Starlink constellation as often as once every other week. It currently has 3,500 Starlink satellites in orbit and more than 500,000 Starlink subscribers.
Despite the often-fierce tug-of-war, SpaceX can unbend enough to launch a competitor’s satellites. SpaceX will launch 40 OneWeb satellites as early as December 6. OneWeb selected SpaceX for the job amid European aerospace companies’ and space agencies’ scramble to find alternative launch providers due to diplomatic tensions with Russia. Upon successful launch of the satellites, OneWeb’s constellation will be 80% complete.
The FCC may have been unimpressed by the competitors’ complaints, considering that it gave SpaceX the green light to at least get started with launching the Starlink v2 satellites. It may not have been everything that SpaceX wanted. However, it’s progress toward Starlink’s goal of a massive Internet-providing constellation.