SpaceX Gets Nod For Satellite Broadband Network

SpaceX has won an endorsement to build a broadband network using satellites from the top U.S. communications regulator. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed the approval of the application. According to Pai, it is the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies.

SpaceX wants to provide broadband services using satellites in the United States and worldwide. In a speech in 2015, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that SpaceX planned to launch a satellite-internet business in the near future, saying that the goal was to create a “global communications system.” He said, “We’re going to try to do for satellites what we’ve done for rockets.”

The company is just coming off of the launch of the world’s most powerful rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. The rocket was launched on Feb. 6 from Florida, carrying a Tesla Roadster and a mannequin nicknamed “Starman.”

In a Feb. 1 letter to the FCC, SpaceX detailed its plans to launch a pair of experimental satellites on one of its Falcon 9 rockets. According to the document, the company will launch a pair of demonstration satellites, known as Microsat-2a and -2b, to test a broadband antenna included in the proposal. That launch, set for Saturday in California, has already been approved by the FCC. The rocket will carry the PAZ satellite for Hisdesat of Madrid, Spain along with multiple smaller secondary payloads.

The U.S. government wants to bring high-speed internet access to rural areas that lack service. In a statement, Pai said, “Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach.” About 14 million rural Americans and 1.2 million Americans on tribal lands lack mobile broadband service. President Donald Trump’s infrastructure proposal lists broadband internet service as eligible for funding.

The proposal now goes to Pai’s four fellow commissioners for consideration. Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said, “The FCC should move quickly to facilitate these new services while underscoring our commitment to space safety.” The agency is also processing similar requests.

The agency earlier approved three international operators for satellite-broadband operations. OneWeb received approval to use a proposed fleet of 720 satellites. Telesat received approval for 117 satellites already authorized by Canada. Space Norway won approval for two satellites.