SpaceX Plans to Reduce Number of V-Band Starlink Satellites

SpaceX filed a new application with the FCC describing a way to reduce the number of V-Band Starlink satellites by integrating them with its second-generation satellites.

It originally planned to launch 7,518 V-Band satellites into orbits ranging from 335 km to 346 km above Earth. Most of the 3,000+ Starlink satellites that are already in orbit operate at an altitude of 550 km.

The FCC had approved the V-Band satellites if SpaceX launched half of them by November 19, 2024, and the full constellation by November 19, 2027. After that, the license to deploy them will expire. Despite the frequent launches to deploy more Starlink satellites, SpaceX has not launched any of the satellites equipped with V-Band yet.

V-Band can increase the amount of bandwidth available to customers. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) defined V-Band as a section of the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum between 40 and 75 GHz.

The U.S. military used the 60-GHz frequency to test V-Band communications between satellites with Milstar 1 and 2. (Milstar could’ve been part of President Reagan’s awkwardly-named “Star Wars” program.)

More recently, V-Band became part of newer Internet standards like the short-range Wi-Fi standard IEEE 802.11ad, which uses the 60GHz frequency to deliver up to 7 Gbps with a range of up to 10 meters. The IEEE 802.11ay standard is a similar but more capable standard that can deliver up to 100 Gbps using V-Band frequencies and newer technological advancements.

V-Band can also be used for wireless broadband and satellite Internet constellations. Besides SpaceX, OneWeb, Boeing, Telesat, O3b Holdings, and Theia Holdings have all applied to operate satellite constellations that include V-Band communications capability.

Competitors and skywatchers complained about the total number of Starlink satellites that SpaceX plans to watch.

SpaceX was particularly dismissive of ViaSat’s complaint in a letter to the FCC, calling the competitor’s concerns “baseless.”

The letter went on to say that SpaceX was working with scientists and regulators to “establish and implement best practices designed to preserve space and our environment for future generations.”

Astronomers say an increasingly crowded sky can interfere with the readings they get from ground-based instruments. SpaceX has tried to solve this problem by reducing the amount of sunlight that Starlink satellites can reflect. So it’s not entirely ignoring the problem even if it frequently pushes back against complaints from competitors like ViaSat.

SpaceX has not clarified how much its new plan to integrate V-Band with its second-generation Starlink satellites will reduce the number of satellites. Its current plans include launching as many as 30,000 Starlink satellites to deliver worldwide Internet access from low Earth orbit.