The FCC on Tuesday approved modifications that SpaceX sought for its satellite constellation, the backbone of its planned Starlink broadband network. SpaceX holds a license for a non-geostationary orbit fixed-satellite service constellation using Ku- and Ka-band spectrum. The big change the agency made was modifying the license to allow 2,814 satellites to fly in a lower orbit, modifying the primary operational altitude for those satellites to change from the originally planned 1,100-1,300 km range to the 540-570 km range.
The Commission made the modifications despite objections from Viasat, SES American, O3B Limited (SES/O3b), Kepler Communications and Amazon’s Kuiper Systems. “We conclude that grant of the SpaceX Third Modification Application will serve the public interest,” the FCC wrote in the order. “Our action will allow SpaceX to implement safety-focused changes to the deployment of its satellite constellation to deliver broadband service throughout the United States, including to those who live in areas underserved or unserved by terrestrial systems.”
SpaceX filed the modification request a year ago. The company asked after its first 1,584 satellites are in orbit, it be allowed to change to the lower orbit for the next 2,814 satellites. The FCC’s approval comes at a key moment for SpaceX, as the company has nearly 1,400 satellites in space and likely would have had to stall its rapid launch without the authorization, reported CNBC.
Opponents, including, Amazon, for example, claimed the changes would cause interference with their satellite networks. SpaceX’s competitors also asserted the change was too significant for the FCC to treat it as a simple modification, saying it should instead be included in a broader processing round with new satellite systems.
But the Commission concluded the changes would not create what it called “significant” interference problems. It said the changes would improve speed and reduce signal lag for Starlink.
Amazon has yet to announce when its first Kuiper satellites will launch. The FCC’s authorization of that system last year requires the company to deploy half of its planned satellites within six years, noted CNBC. That represents Amazon deploying about 1,600 satellites in orbit by July 2026.
Amazon called the agency’s ruling “a positive outcome” because it “places clear conditions on SpaceX. These conditions address our primary concerns regarding space safety and interference, and we appreciate the Commission’s work to maintain a safe and competitive environment in low earth orbit,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC.
The order requires SpaceX to issue a report twice a year that includes the number of Starlink near misses with other satellites in the past six months. The report must also specify the number of Starlink satellites that were disposed of or re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.