When Card Shops Play Dirty, Consumers Win

SpaceX is seeking permission to launch another 30,000 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for its Starlink broadband network, which would be in addition to the nearly 12,000 satellites the company already has permission to launch. But it’s too early in the process to determine whether SpaceX is likely to launch most or all of the additional 30,000 satellites. Ars Technica reports: The Federal Communications Commission made the requests on SpaceX’s behalf, as is standard practice, in a series of filings with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) last week. (Here’s an example of one of the filings.) The 30,000 satellites would operate “at altitudes ranging from 328 kilometers to 580 kilometers,” SpaceNews reported yesterday. The filings are known as coordination requests. As SpaceNews noted, the ITU coordinates spectrum “to prevent signal interference and spectrum hogging.” SpaceX’s filings could help the company reserve spectrum before other operators claim it, but it’s an early step in the process and doesn’t commit SpaceX to launching all 30,000 satellites.

SpaceX’s constellation alone would dwarf the total number of satellites orbiting Earth today. As of January 2019, about 8,950 satellites had been placed into Earth orbit since 1957, and about 5,000 of those were still in space, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). Only about 1,950 of those are still functioning. If SpaceX proceeds with the additional 30,000 satellites, it would have to seek FCC permission and provide more technical detail, including plans to minimize debris and prevent collisions. SpaceX is designing its satellites to burn up completely during atmospheric re-entry in order to prevent physical harm from falling objects.