SpaceX has abandoned its plans to utilize the Falcon 9 to deploy the 30,000 satellites that will make up its projected second-generation Starlink broadband constellation in favor of a configuration based on its future Starship spacecraft. In a statement to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on January 7, William Wiltshire, the SpaceX lawyer said that development progress had exceeded the business’s expectations and that the company may start “launching the Gen2 system as soon as March 2022.”
The Federal Aviation Administration intends to finish an environmental study of SpaceX’s launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on February 28.
SpaceX has received FCC approval to be able to launch 4,408 satellites into low Earth orbit at a height of roughly 550 kilometers and has already launched almost half of them. SpaceX’s plans for a larger, second-generation constellation have yet to be approved by the Federal Communications Commission. Now that it has decided on the Starship-launched design, SpaceX has requested the FCC to speed approval.
“Just as terrestrial wireless networks fulfill customer needs by simultaneously operating multiple generations of technology,” Wiltshire wrote, “SpaceX intends to employ both of its networks to provide greater service.”
“Even while it undertakes the initial launch of the Gen2 system, SpaceX will continue to uphold its first-generation system, deploying replacement satellites as needed to maintain the orbits in which it functions. To be clear, running both systems at the same time does not imply that SpaceX will always be able to use all of the spacecraft under its authorizations in all areas.”
In August, the firm proposed 2 configurations for the follow-on network it first presented to the FCC in the year 2020, with both possibilities capable of spreading satellites more equitably across 9 to 12 inclined orbits that will enable for more consistent and denser coverage — without the need for additional spectrum or spacecraft.
The planned Starship arrangement, which SpaceX previously stated was its preferred choice, consists of 29,988 satellites spread over nine inclined orbits at altitudes ranging from 340 to 614 kilometers. The Falcon 9 arrangement, which has since been scrapped, would have scattered 29,996 satellites across the twelve orbital inclinations, at altitudes ranging from 328 to 614 kilometers.
Amazon and other SpaceX competitors had urged the FCC to reject the modified plan, claiming that obtaining clearance for several configurations encourages future constellation operators to engage in speculative application behavior.