SpaceX continues to make waves after the company’s recent successful launch of their Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Tesla Roadster. On February 22, 2018, SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 carrying two satellites to go into low earth orbit to test its new project: a global network of high-speed broadband Internet. The project aims to provide low-latency broadband to rural areas and other places with spotty internet access worldwide. The project, which is currently called “Starlink,” would place two constellations of satellites into low-earth orbit, one group of 7,518 satellites 211 miles above the Earth, and another smaller group of 4,425 satellites somewhere between 684-823 miles above the Earth.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai officially gave his nod of approval to SpaceX to fly the satellites in low-earth orbit a week prior to launch. This announcement came only days after Phase II of the FCC’s largest push to provide broadband to rural Americans, a project called “Connect America.” The FCC’s Connect America Fund is a $2 billion incentive over 10 years to broadband companies to offer services to rural Americans at comparable rates to urban areas. On February 13, bidding began in a reverse auction for companies to get access to FCC funds.
From the FCC’s perspective, SpaceX’s timing couldn’t be better. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX plans to have the internet service up and running by the mid-2020s, about the time that the Connect America Fund incentives would end. The combination of Starlink and Connect America could make broadband internet commonplace in rural and other underserved areas of the U.S. for the forseeable future.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is thinking bigger than just America, though. Starlink aims to provide internet worldwide. However, in order to do that SpaceX will also need to seek approval from a separate worldwide telecommunications regulating body, the International Telecommunications Union.