Boeing gets green light for satellite internet constellation

The Federal Communications Commission has approved a Boeing satellite internet project first proposed in 2017. Boeing can now move forward to build, launch and operate its own broadband internet network from space, along with its main aviation competitor SpaceX.

Boeing’s plan involves placing 132 satellites in low Earth orbit at an altitude of 1,056 kilometers (about 656 miles). Another 15 will be launched into “non-geostationary orbit” at altitudes between 27,355 and 44,221 km (16,998 to 27,478 miles). The company says it plans to use the satellites to “provide broadband Internet and communications services to private consumers, government and business users in the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands” as the network expands, and on a global scale. base once completed.

All 147 satellites would broadcast in the V band, a higher frequency portion of the wireless spectrum than the Ka and Ku bands used by SpaceX’s Starlink network or the yet-to-be-deployed Project Kuiper satellites. Amazon. Using V-band can provide faster data transfer rates, but carries a greater risk of interference because the higher frequencies have more difficulty penetrating solid objects. (SpaceX has plans to use the V band in some future satellites, and so does OneWeb. The Ka and Ku bands are also used by satellites that provide in-flight internet to commercial airlines.)

SpaceX has previously expressed concerns that Boeing’s proposal to launch into already crowded low orbits could increase the risk of colliding with other satellites. In 2019, SpaceX told the FCC it believed Boeing’s network would create a “clear danger of harmful interference,” according to Reuters. SpaceX’s Starlink satellites orbit the Earth at an altitude of about 550 km (about 342 miles), which is around where the OneWeb Internet satellite constellation is located (and where Amazon’s satellites will go as soon as they have been launched). SpaceX and OneWeb narrowly avoided a collision earlier this year.

Boeing now has six years to launch half of its satellite constellation and nine years to deploy the entire network. The company had asked the FCC to relax those requirements — it only wanted to commit to launching five satellites in the first six years and asked for a 12-year period to launch the entire constellation — but the committee pointed out that request, according to the order published Wednesday.

By comparison, SpaceX and Amazon have much bigger plans for their networks, each consisting of thousands of satellites. Boeing is a major satellite manufacturer, which is why it sold out to early space-based internet providers in the years before and after its first proposal in 2017 as the market matured. But carriers are now expected to collectively generate more than $50 billion by 2031, which could explain why Boeing went through the four-year approval process.

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