Skip to main content

Broadband in Space

By Katie McAuliffe | November 14, 2018

America has a goal of connecting everyone to high-speed Internet access with a particular focus on connecting rural areas. Over the last two years, the president and congress have approved additional rural broadband spending and we are likely to see more in the Farm Bill.

We also want more competition in the marketplace so that people have a choice of providers. With 5G wireless will be better able to compete with wireline services.  The FCC is even reducing regulatory barriers for broadband from space.

SpaceX has been the focus in the news, but the FCC is reviewing satellite proposals for broadband from Telesat, LeoSat and Kepler Communications as well.

The FCC’s consideration shows a move to increase market competition for broadband as never before. These approvals are a positive and the FCC has shown diligence in balancing satellite needs with safety for other space mission and the decommissioning of space junk.

SpaceX aims to provide Internet service by linking its Starlink satellites to ground stations and mountable terminals about the size of a pizza box at homes or businesses. Two Starlink test satellites launched in February, Tintin A and B, were functioning as intended, allowing testers to play video games and watch 4K video.

SpaceX envisions Starlink as a network of 12,000 satellites providing high-speed internet to the entire globe.

In March, the FCC approved 4,425 small satellites launched into standard low-Earth orbit - more than two times the total number of active satellites there now. 

A major roadblocks to launching the rest is space pollution. As such SpaceX has modified its plans to reduce the number of satellites and requested a lower earth orbit to reduce the amount of time that retired or malfunctioning satellites exist as space junk.

With the lower orbit retired satellites will fall back into and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere within 5 years rather than needing to be retrieved or float aimlessly for 10 or more years before falling back into the atmosphere.

The Satellite Industry Association, a lobby group, estimates the global market for satellite-based broadband and television services is worth $127.7 billion.

SpacesX isn’t the only name in satellite broadband.

OneWeb is working to provide internet service from about 900 satellites with some $2 billion in capitol raised from SoftBank, the Coca-Cola Company and others.

Telesat, backed by Loral Space & Communications Inc, reported it conducted the first-ever live test of in-flight broadband via a satellite in low-Earth orbit, with a target of 2022 for broadband services from an array of about 300 satellites.

With FCC approval SpaceX will be able to move forward in its efforts to expand high-speed Internet access to billions of people in rural or suburban areas globally.

This is an important step in favor of market competition for Internet services. This is another way that the free market evolves to meet American’s needs and shows that government micromanagement of internet infrastructure is unnecessary.

Photo Credit: Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Center