SpaceX changes plans for its Starlink project, wants satellites to orbit at lower altitude

Image credit: SpaceX (Flickr)

SpaceX has been working on its Starlink project for a few years now, aiming to use satellites to provide internet for people around the globe. The project started making more visible progress this year with the launch of the first two test satellites back in February.

Now, SpaceX has tweaked its plans for the full launch of its internet-providing satellites, according to a report by The Verge. The company has filed a request to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in which it details plans to send 1,584 satellites to orbit at an altitude of 550km, far less than the 1,150km that were expected when the FCC approved the company's plans earlier this year. Originally, the plan was to initially launch 1,600 satellites into the orbit, so this is a relatively small reduction.

There are other benefits to lowering the orbit altitude, however. At the lower altitude, when the satellites are no longer functional, they can more quickly be disposed of when they're no longer useful, as Earth's gravity draws them into the atmosphere so that they're destroyed. This means there will be less satellites floating around in space, which means less space debris and less chances of collision with other satellites that might still be operational. On the other hand, this means those satellites will need to work harder in order to avoid falling down prematurely.

When SpaceX launched the two test satellites earlier this year, they were meant to start orbiting at about 511km of altitude before going up to 1,125km, but that ended up not happening. Presumably, the company realized that the lower altitude had more benefits, which is why it didn't move its test satellites higher up.

The first wave of satellites should start being launched into space in 2019, with plans pointing to a total of 4,425 units being sent into orbit by 2024. If everything goes according to plan, it will be interesting to see how the Starlink project affects consumer access to the internet.

Source: FCC via The Verge

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