At a Senate hearing on broadband infrastructure, Patricia Cooper, SpaceX’s VP of Satellite Government Affairs, outlined the company’s plan to launch a constellation 4,425 broadband satellites to provide high-speed internet to Earth. The satellites will launch from the Falcon 9 rocket beginning 2019 and continue launching in phases until the full network came online in 2024.
Cooper said the company will begin satellite testing in coming months, following up with a prototype launch later this year and another in the early months of 2018. These prototypes will be used to demonstrate that the custom-built craft is capable of providing the internet for Earth, but assuming the tests go successfully, SpaceX plans to start building the network system in 2019.
Back in November, SpaceX had filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission to launch the broadband satellite system but provided few details on how it would be rolled out.
The company will launch additional satellites in phases until 2024, at which point Cooper says the network should have reached full capacity, with the craft operating on the Ka- and Ku-band frequencies. As mentioned earlier, SpaceX will be using its own Falcon 9 rockets to get the satellites into low-Earth orbit — a cost effective measure where the rocket will deposit the payload into space, and then land back on earth to be reused.
Cooper said, the 4,425 satellites will “operate in 83 orbital planes (at altitudes ranging from 1,110km to 1,325km),” and will be supported by SpaceX’s ground control centers, gateway stations, and other facilities. Once fully deployed, the network will pass over virtually all parts of the Earth’s surface and therefore, in principle, have the ability to provide ubiquitous global service. “Every point on the Earth’s surface will see, at all times, a SpaceX satellite”.
Space Junk Will Increase After The Launch Of Broadband Satellites
At present, only 1,459 satellites are present around our planet – a figure which would be tripled after the massive SpaceX launch, potentially increasing “space junk”. But, it is also worthy to note that connectivity on Earth will see a massive upgrade. Cooper said using a space-based network meant companies didn’t need to install, rip up, and reinstall cabling in order to provide a service. “The common challenges associated with digging trenches, laying fiber, and dealing with property rights are materially alleviated through a space-based broadband network”.
The company has also proposed an additional network of broadband satellites – operating ever closer to the ground – for boosting capacity and reducing latency in heavily populated regions. But, Cooper did not mention any timeline for this specific part of the project.