On November 15 of 2016, SpaceX filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 4,425 satellites into low orbit to provide the entire planet with blazing fast internet.
“The system is designed to provide a wide range of broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental and professional users worldwide,” they wrote in their application
This would be a launch of more than three times the 1,419 currently active satellites that are orbiting Earth.
Some of the largest satellites in orbit can weigh several tons and be the size of a bus. These satellites would be much smaller, only weighing 386 kg each and sized roughly as large as a MINI Cooper car.
They will also orbit much closer to earth, as many satellites are 35,000 km above the surface – these would be between 1,150 km to 1,275 km.
“With deployment of the first 800 satellites, SpaceX will be able to provide widespread US and international coverage for broadband services,” SpaceX wrote.
“Once fully optimized through the Final Deployment, the system will be able to provide high bandwidth (up to 1 Gbps per user), low latency broadband services for consumers and businesses in the US and globally.”
That’s right. The company plans to offer internet speeds up to 1 gigabyte per second, In contrast, the average internet speed in 2015 was 5.1 Mbps per user – about 200 times slower than SpaceX’s target.
Here are some more details directly from SpaceX’s filing, which are notable:
- High capacity: Each satellite in the SpaceX System provides aggregate downlink capacity to users ranging from 17 to 23 Gbps, depending on the gain of the user terminal involved. Assuming an average of 20 Gbps, the 1600 satellites in the Initial Deployment would have a total aggregate capacity of 32 Tbps. SpaceX will periodically improve the satellites over the course of the multi-year deployment of the system, which may further increase capacity.
- High adaptability: The system leverages phased array technology to dynamically steer a large pool of beams to focus capacity where it is needed. Optical inter-satellite links permit flexible routing of traffic on-orbit. Further, the constellation ensures that frequencies can be reused effectively across different satellites to enhance the flexibility and capacity and robustness of the overall system.
- Broadband services: The system will be able to provide broadband service at speeds of up to 1 Gbps per end user. The system’s use of low-Earth orbits will allow it to target latencies of approximately 25-35 ms.
- Worldwide coverage: With deployment of the first 800 satellites, the system will be able to provide US and international broadband connectivity; when fully deployed, the system will add capacity and availability at the equator and poles for truly global coverage.
- Low cost: SpaceX is designing the overall system from the ground up with cost-effectiveness and reliability in mind, from the design and manufacturing of the space and ground-based elements, to the launch and deployment of the system using SpaceX launch services, development of the user terminals, and end-user subscription rates.
- Ease of use: SpaceX’s phased-array user antenna design will allow for a low-profile user terminal that is easy to mount and operate on walls or roofs.
- The satellites will last between five and seven years and decay within a year after that.
This is an incredible push and extremely needed.