Space companies ask FCC to approve 38,000 broadband satellites

Rocket 3.1 is launched from Kodiak, Alaska.

Astra / John Kraus

On Thursday, dozens of space companies filed requests with the FCC for new or expanded broadband networks, asking the regulator to approve a total of about 38,000 satellites.

Amazon, Astra, Boeing, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Hughes Network, OneWeb, SpinLaunch and Telesat are among those asking the FCC for access to the so-called V-band spectrum, the frequency band the companies hope to use to provide global access. broadband access from space.

The FCC’s deadline for the latest round of V-band proposal processing was Thursday at midnight, leading to a flood of applications.

“It’s just a land grab,” Quilty Analytics founder Chris Quilty told CNBC. Research and investment company Quilty specializes in the satellite communications sector.

“The most difficult aspect of building [low Earth orbit] the broadband system receives spectrum, not builds and launches satellites. This is an attempt by every company that has any plans for the future to place a bet on a beach that is currently not in demand, ”added Quilty.

It is noteworthy that the companies that submitted applications on Thursday have different experiences and existing plans.

Amazon is working on an initial constellation of 3,236 satellites called Project Kuiper. Astra is a rocket company that previously announced plans to start building spaceships. Earlier this week, Boeing received FCC clearance for a constellation of 147 satellites. British company OneWeb is about halfway to orbit its original constellation of 648 satellites. Canadian operator Telesat is working on a constellation of 298 satellites called Lightspeed. SpinLaunch is focused on creating an alternative launch system, while Inmarsat, Intelsat and Hughes have existing satellite communications networks.

Number of satellites in each company’s new or expanded constellation proposed Thursday:

  • Amazon – 7,774
  • Astra – 13 620 points
  • Boeing – 5789 units
  • Inmarsat – 198
  • Intelsat – 216
  • Hughes – 1440
  • OneWeb – 6 372
  • SpinLaunch – 1190
  • Telesat – 1373

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has already deployed 1,740 of its Starlink broadband satellites, was not among the recent contenders. The FCC previously authorized SpaceX to launch about 7,500 V-band Starlink satellites, and the company is working on plans to install nearly 30,000 satellites in its Gen2 system.

Why companies serve

How the FCC is responding to the flood of applications and which ones are getting approval to promote is unclear. But there is motivation, said Arman Mussey, President of Summit Ridge Group. His consulting services specialize in the valuation of companies in the telecommunications and satellite industries.

“Everyone wants to bet, and one way to place a bet is to apply for a constellation, and then in the future, they figure out exactly how they want to implement it, or whether they want to suggest some changes to their original registration. you don’t have any share in the land in terms of registration, you kind of give up your opportunity to participate, ”Musi told CNBC.

In addition, the historical role of the FCC in this is to analyze whether applicants have filed correctly, Musay said, rather than “making judgments based on evaluating business plans.”

One of the main concerns with the potential spike in the number of satellites in low-Earth orbit is the risk of collisions and the creation of new space debris. The companies’ proposals include maneuvering systems and the use of the atmosphere to burn any non-working satellites as a way to combat this risk. Offerings also include a wide range of altitudes from 600 km above the Earth to 10,000 km or more.

“Space debris is one of the increasingly important issues in the industry,” said Musey. “If you have too many satellites and they start bumping into each other, you can create a chain reaction that is sometimes triggered by Kessler syndrome… “

“This is an existential threat that worries the people associated with all of these satellites, and there really isn’t a big central body other than individual governments to oversee and ensure that the satellites are deployed responsibly,” added Musey.

V-band calling

Satellite communication systems have traditionally focused on lower spectrum frequencies, such as the C-band, but are increasingly moving towards higher, but more difficult to use frequencies, such as the Ka-band, Ku-band, and now the V-band.

“It’s harder to work with, but you can actually get more bandwidth and more bandwidth, and technologies for using the V-band are becoming more and more viable,” said Musey.

The business model is “still under discussion” with market orientation, potential broadband speeds and more, which is reflected in “a large number of different constellation proposals,” Musay said. At this point, the V-range is “essentially an asset that you can trade to get business.”

The use of the V-band “is a fundamental issue in physics,” Quilty said.

“The higher the frequency, the more susceptible you are to rain attenuation and weather conditions, and other factors that degrade the signal,” Quilty said.

This means that companies need better antennas, more powerful satellites, and better processing algorithms to make the V-band service work to deliver services to consumers. However, firms have overcome technological hurdles that increase the potential use of the V-band.

“The whole history of wireless communications, satellite or terrestrial, has been a slow transition to higher frequencies over time,” Musey said. “The question is, when will you bring it down to commercially acceptable prices?”

Quilty also highlighted the lack of a reliable supply chain as another challenge for companies looking to build V-band satellites and ground systems.

“It’s expensive, it’s early stage, and supply sources are limited,” Quilty said. “I would say that companies that try to build these components on their own will face significant engineering challenges.”

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