Boeing’s 147-Satellite Constellation Approved for Broadband Internet

FCC approval comes as an increase of satellites and space debris litters Earth’s lower orbit.

The Federal Communications Commission has authorized Boeing to launch a 147-satellite constellation to create its own orbiting broadband internet network.

First proposed in 2017, Boeing plans to deploy 132 satellites in low-Earth orbit, about 650 miles up, and 15 others in “non-geostationary orbit”—as high as 27,000 miles above Earth.

“Advanced satellite broadband services have an important role to play in connecting hard-to-serve communities,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement released Wednesday. “We are committed to a careful and detailed review of all such applications and I thank the International Bureau team for their work completing this first round of NGSO applications.”

Boeing plans to use the satellites to “provide broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental, and professional users in the United States and globally.”

The satellite constellation will utilize V-band frequencies, which are capable of higher speeds but may have trouble traveling through solid objects. In comparison, SpaceX’s Starlink constellation uses Ka and Ku bands, which cover lower frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum.

In 2019, SpaceX’s Elon Musk spoke out against Boeing’s proposal, stating that its plans could pose “clear danger” to other satellite operators, according to Reuters. Those additional operators include Amazon’s Kuiper Systems, OneWeb, Telesat, and numerous others.

SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, alone, plans to send a total of 42,000 satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). The goal of the $10 billion project is to provide internet access around the world. SpaceX has already deployed 1,600 Starlink satellites, with many more on the way.

Boeing’s 147-satellite constellation approval comes amid a growing space debris crisis in which 70,000 satellites have already been proposed to enter Earth’s orbit. Concerns about collisions with satellites and debris are very real.

In 2009, a collision between an inactive Russian satellite and a U.S. Iridium Communications satellite created nearly 2,000 pieces of debris at least 10 centimeters in diameter—big enough to substantially damage spacecraft or other orbiting equipment.

“The reason that we currently track stuff 10 centimeters and bigger is because 10 centimeters is like the smallest threshold, where if you hit it, it’s going to be completely obliterated,” said Brian Weeden, a space policy and security expert at the Secure World Foundation.

About 27,000 pieces of debris are already floating in orbit, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Weeden told FLYING that if immediate action isn’t taken, the problem could get much worse.

“It is something where a bunch of things happen and the negative effects accumulate over decades to much, much bigger problems down the road.”

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