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Nov 16, 2019,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

SpaceX wants not 12,000 but 42,000 satellites in its Starlink constellation

The US company that specialises in space flight certainly has lofty ambitions and is looking to put a huge amount of satellites into orbit for its Starlink project. Thousands of mini-satellites will be sent up to provide a high-speed Internet connection for all of the Earth’s inhabitants, regardless of where they live.


US space sector company SpaceX confirmed on Wednesday 16 October that it had submitted frequency requests for a further 30,000 satellites, in addition to 12,000 it already has, in a move confirmed by a UN agency. On 7 October, the US Federal Communications Commission transmitted 20 requests each for 1,500 satellites to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva, 20, as confirmed by Alexandre Vallet, chief of the space services department at the ITU. 20 technical requests can be consulted on the website of the ITU, which coordinates the spectrum of radio frequencies and satellite orbits on a global level.


Constellation of mini-satellites


A SpaceX spokesperson did not directly confirm the number but stated that the company was taking "measures to develop the total capacity and density of the data of the Starlink network in order to meet the anticipated growth in consumer requirements".

Starlink will be a constellation of mini-satellites providing the Earth with high-speed Internet. Since they will be situated at a relatively low altitude (550 kilometres for the first ones), the response time will be all the quicker. The satellites will form a grid throughout the sky in such a way that several of them will always be in a direct line with any point on the globe.

SpaceX launched its first 60 satellites in May and has confirmed that the constellation will be operational for Canada and the north of the USA next year. The company said that it will require 24 launches to cover the rest of the world.


Will Starlink block up the sky?


There are currently just over 2,100 active satellites in orbit around the Earth, of the 23,000 recorded objects in orbit (including rocket gear, inactive satellites and debris). The idea of adding another 42,000 to the sky creates a two-fold issue. Firstly, astronomers fear that constellations of this kind will prevent observations by telescope from the Earth. When the first train of satellites was launched, a number of astronomers photographed a long line of lights. SpaceX has stated that the base of the forthcoming satellites will be black, to avoid this phenomenon.

The second concern is the sheer amount objects in low terrestrial orbit, i.e. within 1,500 – 2,000 kilometres. SpaceX has said that 5% (three) of its first 60 satellites broke down within a month of their launch and that it has the means to take non-functioning satellites out of orbit and avoid any collisions with other satellites.

An incident last month however has illustrated that these procedures are not yet fully functional. The European Space Agency (ESA) was forced to modify the trajectory of one of its Aeolus satellites to avoid a potential collision with a Starlink craft. While this should be a relatively routine manoeuvre, apparently the ESA contacted SpaceX but did not get a response as the company’s operators failed to notice the message...


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