FCC Gives SpaceX Green Light for 7,518 New Satellites

By Chelsea Gohd | November 16, 2018 2:00 pm
SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft in orbit. The private space company has gotten permission from the FCC to launch over 7,000 satellites into low-Earth orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft in orbit. The private space company has gotten permission from the FCC to launch over 7,000 satellites into low-Earth orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is cultivating a larger presence in space. The private space company has just won permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deploy 7,518 satellites into low-Earth orbit. This is thousands more than the approximately 2,000 total satellites now orbiting and operating around Earth.

Launching Satellites

SpaceX currently has two test satellites in orbit and the company has previously received permission to deploy 4,425 satellites. These satellites, in addition to the newly-permitted ones, are built to provide broadband communications. SpaceX will begin launching the satellites next year, according to a statement.

Today, satellites are developed to be smaller, cheaper, and more effective than older models. In fact, some of these satellites are just four inches long and as light as three pounds. But, despite their minuscule size, even tiny satellites can run into major problems in space.

This computer visualization shows the Earth surrounded by "space junk". (Credit: ESA)

This computer visualization shows the Earth surrounded by “space junk.” (Credit: ESA)

Space Junk

There is a wealth of debris floating around Earth. From defunct satellites to pieces of old spacecraft, there are over 21,000 pieces of space junk larger than four inches and millions of debris measuring less than one-third of an inch orbiting our planet. As it collides and breaks apart, this junk could cause harm to working satellites and spacecraft. Satellites damaged and destroyed by collisions with this debris would only contribute to this “space junk” surrounding Earth.

And the tiniest pieces of debris can severely damage satellites. “Even a centimeter-wide object can wreak devastating damage to satellites,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Thursday before voting on space topics like SpaceX’s proposed satellites. So, with thousands of new satellites from SpaceX, each will be vulnerable to damage from space debris.

The FCC voted 4-0 to advance rules that would require more calculations to show that a spacecraft poses a minimal risk of colliding in orbit. Still, the issues of an increasingly crowded orbit will be worsened by the growing number of small satellites, Henry Hertzfeld, the director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, said in the statement.

The official FCC authorization can be found here.

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  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

    7,518 satellites” What, no decimal places? The unfolding extreme solar minimum is already cooling the upper atmosphere, shrinking its radial extent. A lot of small stuff will remain in orbit an extra few years as Global Freezing (“it’s only weather”) shuffles along..

    • OWilson

      Only real science (and it’s satellites) can save manind from the left wing propaganda that we are on the verge of cataclysmical catastrophe in our own paltry lifetimes, unless we shut down the enrgy that drives the growth of Western Capitalism, and transfer huge amount of it’s generated wealth to the corrupt third world.

      While the usual suspects, the U.N., Al
      Gore, politicians, and “science journalists” are doubling down on their doomsday scenarios, we have more and more empirical observations, that it just ain’t so! :)

      • Mike Richardson

        “Real science (and it’s [sic] satellites)” ? 😆😄😁

        • OWilson

          Obama gave back $billions to the third world Mullah’s in Iran.

          So are we all now “getting along”?

          No, they are still burning American flags, screaming “Death to America” and still determined to eradicate Israel, the only democratic country in the region!

          Realpolitic?

          Lol

          • Mike Richardson

            Good grief! What on earth does any of that unhinged rant have to do with the topic of satellites? I mean the first post with the gratuitous Al Gore reference accompanying the perpetual climate change denial was bad, but you just went even further off topic, as if this were one of those political blogs where that kind of ridiculous rhetoric might approach appropriate. Please get help.

          • Popcorn Joe

            LOL Mike…. OWilson has to post his daily quota of AGW denying comments and attacks against Democrats someplace or he doesn’t get paid… ^..^

          • OWilson

            Nonsense! :)

            I provide an opportunity for the usual suspects to vent their knee jerk ad hominem attacks.

            You’re welcome! :)

            But Popcorn Joe at least seems more cognizant of the satire in my Lol response to Uncle Al’s sarcastic take on the extraordinary number of satellites (7,518) to be deployed to an already crowded field.

            For me, the bottom line is the lower cost of privatization in these matters. Especially the likelyhood of faster, lower cost broadband to my location.

            Go Space X !

          • Mike Richardson

            You use ad hominem attacks on entire groups of folks at a time. A bit hypocritical of you, but I think anyone who reads your posts is used to it by now, and appreciates them primarily for ironic humor. 😉

            But please, what’s your opinion on the sheer number of satellites planned for launch, considered the amount of space junk already cluttering up earth orbit? Or care to explain what “real scientists” are? : )

          • OWilson

            Pretty please? :)

          • Topanga Russ

            How about actually fixing problems, rather than endless InfoWars debate https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/544be6282ba803d6bf61a75ff7c93587b683d504099ab007a7f09453cdd9da29.png

          • OWilson

            I’m all for solving real problems.

            Here’s what I posted on the other blog, about those unexpected asteroids that appear quickly, sometimes recorded only after they have left our neighborhood:

            “Implanting (firing) a small tracking chip at each noteworthy asteroid target (size, proximity of orbit, etc) could provide a tech feasible method of tracking potential interlopers, and at least provide time to decide a course of action!

            Instead of the interminable “studies” of “settled science” and trillion dollar “solutions” to deal with normal inclement weather.

            But, take away the $trillions in wealth transfer to the third world, there seems little appetite for the U.N. and the other “concerned” usual suspects, to do something actually useful to “save mankind”! :)

            As always, follow the the money! :)

            And equally important is to do something about sweeping up all the garbage and pollution we are leaving in orbit!

    • Popcorn Joe

      What’s with the “Solar Minimum”? Doesn’t that happen on average every 7 to 8 years? So what?

      And does your post have anything at all to do with allowing another 7,518 new satellites in low Earth orbit?

  • Popcorn Joe

    I would like to read the article but a huge full page AD for Discover magazine totally blocks out the article with no X to delete the AD…

    I do wonder why over 7,500 new satellites are needed for communications… ^..^ I was told there are only 3 satellites needed for GPS.

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