Taking time out of his busy schedule of tweeting and blasting fancy cars into space, Elon Musk has also been pushing forward SpaceX's Starlink project, an ambitious plan to beam down the Internet to unconnected areas of the world using a constellation of satellites orbiting the Earth.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has officially authorized SpaceX to provide broadband Internet satellite services using a vast network of satellites, just a few weeks after SpaceX launched two Starlink demo satellites onboard a reusable Falcon 9 rocket.
The license allows SpaceX’s holding company to build and launch a satellite system of over 4,425 satellites at an approximate altitude of around 1,325 kilometers (823 miles). The permit says that SpaceX must launch 50 percent of the satellite fleet by March 2024 and all of them by March 2027.
Starlink’s mission is to provide broadband Internet access to the entire planet, the FFC authorization reads, although it appears to be focusing on remote and rural areas of the US at first. It's no surprise that demand for Internet has never been higher, with over 25 percent of Americans reporting that they are “almost constantly” online. Despite this, less than two-thirds of rural Americans have access to true high-speed Internet. Starlink hopes to change that.
First two Starlink demo satellites, called Tintin A & B, deployed and communicating to Earth stations. Elon Musk
Ajit Pai, everybody’s favorite FCC Chairman, said in February that he had endorsed the SpaceX effort, saying: “Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach,” according to Reuters.
This is the first approval of a US-licensed satellite constellation to provide broadband services, although it has already given out permits to the Canadian company Telesat, Space Norway, and the Channel Islands-based OneWeb. Project Loon has also enjoyed some recent success after providing Puerto Rico with emergency Internet access and telecommunications following last year’s devastating Atlantic hurricanes.
“We appreciate the FCC's thorough review and approval of SpaceX's constellation license. Although we still have much to do with this complex undertaking, this is an important step toward SpaceX building a next-generation satellite network that can link the globe with reliable and affordable broadband service, especially reaching those who are not yet connected," Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX, said in a statement given to CNBC.