SpaceX in a filing with the US Federal Communications Commission is seeking allowance to spread out its Starlink satellites in more rings around the earth saying that this will speed up the service and reduce launch needs. These changes might bring coverage to the Southern US states as early next year’s Hurricane season.
SpaceX wants to triple the number of orbital planes at 550km which is the altitude where its lowest layer of Ku- and Ka-band Starlink satellites operate from. It should be noted that SpaceX launched its first 60 satellites aboard the Falcon Rocket on May 23rd, but it will need another 6 Starlink launches before it can have enough satellites to offer a partial service.
In the filing, SpaceX proposed splitting the satellites into 72 rings instead of the 24 as planned which will enable them to spread out and offer greater launch efficiency.
The filing says, “The proposed respacing would require fewer launches of satellites –perhaps- as few as half to initiate service to the entire contagious United States.” SpaceX also added. “Globally, the modification would enable more rapid coverage of all longitudes to grow towards the Equator, as well as bolstering capacity over in areas of greater population density.”
Apart from the contagious US states, the new orbits would also cover areas of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. SpaceX will deorbit 5 satellites, the 3 that failed to work and 2 for test purposes.
SpaceX expects to launch more Starlink satellites before the end of 2019. President and COO, Gwynne Shotwell, said in May that the company was planning 3-7 launches this year, but these would depend on the lessons derived from the first launch.
Satellite communications are important after natural disasters. Earthquakes and storms destroy the cellular towers and terrestrial infrastructure which creates a dark zone during such crises.
The FCC allowed SpaceX to provide broadband services from a constellation of almost 12,000 satellites and in April approved SpaceX’s request to operate 1,600 of the satellites at 550km rather than the agreed 1,150km in the original request.