back to article FCC gives SpaceX the go-ahead to drop Starlink satellite orbits by 500 kilometres or so

America's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted an application by SpaceX to bring some of its broadband satellites closer to Earth. The authorisation reduces the maximum number of birds allowed in the constellation by one from 4,409 to 4,408, and reduces the operational altitude for 2,814 of the satellites from …

  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Simple solution

    Cash on delivery, first one to put a lunar lander on the moon gets paid

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Simple solution

      Might be better if it's the first one to bring it back...

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Simple solution

        Might be better if it's the first one to bring it back...

        Next court fight being by the losing bidders for the contract to put that pile 'o money on the Moon in the first place.

    2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Simple solution

      Wasn't there an X-prize or something similar that offered that? I'm guessing no-one's claimed it.

  2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    from 4,409 to 4,408

    Is this a typo in the original document?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: from 4,409 to 4,408

      Yeah, a reduction of 1 from such a large number also struck me as seeing a little odd too.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: from 4,409 to 4,408

        > a reduction of 1 from such a large number also struck me as seeing a little odd too

        It's literally the least they can do, to show they do regulate, but without actually interfering too much...

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      4,409 to 4,408

      It's not a typo: the FCC's reduced the max size of the constellation by one and allowed some of them to operate at a lower altitude. There's about 1,200 in orbit now, and 12,000 or more planned eventually, which will be launched in stages.


  3. Mage Silver badge
    Black Helicopters


    Space and orbits are an international resource.

    Why did Starlink get approval just on USA agreement in the first place?

    How does the FCC have the authority to allow these 500 km lower when they are not above the USA? Actually only one height makes a satellite appear to be always above the USA.

    Also it's INTERNET satellites. Not Broadband. Peak speed doesn't make it broadband. Contention? Security & Evesdropping? Protocols?

    What's the operational life?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Arrogant?

      >Space and orbits are an international resource.

      The galactic council disagrees

      >How does the FCC have the authority to allow these 500 km lower

      They don't. they just have the ability to pull Starlink's license to sell internet services to US customers. Which means that Starlink has to do what they say if they want to make money.

      Azerbaijan's telecom regulator could refuse permission and threaten Starlink's ability to sell services in their country - and Starlink will ignore them.

      >Peak speed doesn't make it broadband.

      Actually message bandwidth greater than coherence bandwidth makes it broadband.

      Starlink does 300mbs, that's faster than I get with my single monopoly supplier of cable 'broadband' at home

      >What's the operational life?

      Quite small, < 5years. Short life means you can use cheaper platforms, don't need radiation hard space grade components and can replace them as hw gets cheaper and better. The only reason for very long life of conventional comms satellites was the huge launch costs, which SpaceX has a handle on.

      1. newspuppy

        Re: Arrogant?


        Azerbaijan's telecom regulator could refuse permission and threaten Starlink's ability to sell services in their country - and Starlink will ignore them.

        <END QUOTE>

        Actually this is a common problem.. Individual countries can (and do) pass laws restricting the use of certain frequencies/technologies...

        Much like it was illegal during WWII to listen to the BBC in Axis occupied Europe... We have certain countries restricting the use of unmonitored communication. Some on the list are surprising... some are the usual suspects. Of course.. We also have the US restricting technology to certain countries due to economic embargoes. The following are restricted or illegal by the host countries themselves (although a US embargo applies to the sale of services to nationals of some of these countries... it in theory does not apply to the use of the technology by eligible parties in said host country. )

        We have countries like:

        Bangladesh, North Korea, India, Myanmar, Cuba, Iran, Poland, Hungary, China, Russia (needed permission).

        The list is changing, and there are 'radio direction finders' that may be used to track down any illegal broadcasting, if such a country does desire to search out miscreants....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Arrogant?

      How does the FCC get to rule on this? I believe hat would be the 1967 "Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies" which says each country is responsible for what they put up there. You don't obtain individual permission from every single country you fly over. It's not like satellites could change their altitude when overflying France, for instance.

      Does 75-150 Mbps downstream and 20-25 Mbps upstream count as broadband? That's consistently what I get from my Starlink connection.

      When I get 75 Mbps, I know that II've fallen back to 2.4 GHz on my WiFi. The Starlink router isn't very configurable, so my fix is to toggle WiFi off and back on again. Eventually I'll upgrade to a different router and will split SSIDs for 2.4 and 5 GHz (will also add a 5GHz accesd point to improve coverage).

      In the mean time, I just marvel at the fact that my WiFi AP can be my bottleneck. I used to have DSL, so that's a nice change.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Does 75-150 Mbps

        But how many people are using it vs the target of how many people they want signed up?

        Contention target.

        Does any arbitrary VPN software work? Can you get a fixed IP? What is the jitter?

        It has to make a profit per satellite in less than five years.

        Nothing like Starlink was envisaged when the rules were written.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Does 75-150 Mbps

          Contention will be what it is, but I suggest that they probably did a little bit of maths before launching the first bird.

          I don't know about VPN, but I can't imagine why they would restrict it - I could easily imagine them using CGNAT though, although to be fair the routing is probably so far outside normal protocols that it doesn't really make a difference.

          They only need to make a profit per constellation - and again, I am sure they have managed to find the corner of a napkin or the back of an envelope to work out if it's economically sustainable. The whole point is that they control the launch costs, and are using cheap hardware.

          1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

            Re: Does 75-150 Mbps

            I could easily imagine them using CGNAT though

            It would make more sense to be IPv6(*) + 464XLAT with CLAT done in the satellite box.

            (*) Just like a certain tech news web site isn't.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Does 75-150 Mbps

            VPNs work, lots of beta testers are WFH and rely on them. Jitter is minimal for me, YMMV.

            During the beta, IPv4 is CGNAT, IPv6 is rolling out experimentally. The stock starlink router doesn't yet support IPv6, but people who use their own routers are starting to see real IPv6 assignments.

            Contention will be a challenge. That's part of why they're very clear that starlink isn't a good solution for densely populated areas.

            There are teething issues one would expect with a beta test. Software updates are relatively frequent, service hiccups happen. The constellation is also very incomplete, so coverage at low latitudes is still developing. They have around 1400 satellites in orbit, but only about 880 are at their service altitudes.

    3. hoola Silver badge

      Re: Arrogant?

      Operational life is 5 to 7 years.

      If they fail then it buzzes around for 25 years if it cannot be de-orbited.

  4. Unbelievable!

    Nice use. Not heard the term "acolyte" in a long while.

    Thanks Msr Speed. Nice article.

    I personally am not a devout Musk / SpaceX fan by stretch of the imagination. But I am impressed by progress, speedy progress.

    Also. NASA are not fools. Yes restricted to a budget, but also forseeing and expediting progress in areas that are for the competitors to demonstrate, is wise.

    Time halts for no man. Why spend $ on waitin? Progress is effort, test, learn.

    I personally, prefer the style of the "not a parking meter situation." (move /do something in some time or ..)

    It's progress. It's PUSHING progress.

    ACTION. Not bollox.

  5. Danny Boyd

    It's going to rain Starlink satellites pretty soon, given their number and low orbits. Everybody duck!

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Better them at 550km and dropping out in 25 years no matter what, then sitting at 1200km for centuries or millenia and denying us safe access to the rest of the solar system (or GPS and GEO injection path).

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      The weather forecast

      It's going to rain Starlink satellites pretty soon

      Sunny intervals at first, later overcast with a chance of Musk droppings in the East.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: The weather forecast

        Cloudy with a chance of spaceballs?

  6. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Space force!

    Why does an American agency deal with that? Space doesn't belong to the US (yet), such an authorization should come from an international consensus

  7. ThatOne Silver badge

    "None of the parties raise concerns that we want to hear"

    > Protests from the likes of Viasat, Kepler, and Kuiper concerning issues such as interference were dismissed by the FCC.

    Money talks, and when money talks, everybody else shuts up! Period.

    I'm no specialist, but I can imagine that huge sheets of metallic objects between sender and receiver might create problems. But who cares, they are somebody else's problems, aren't they.

    The Wild West period of space has officially started...

  8. hoola Silver badge

    But being able to watch porn, access Facebook and buy tat from Amazon is far more important that any real science that comes out of those platforms.

    Money talks and as ever, regulation is seen as an inconvenience to work around rather than adhere to.

    If it gets these Starlink bean tins out of the physical way of the expensive communications, GPS & science platforms then is at least something. These things are so cheap and disposable that they really don't care. We have already had one near fiasco where ESA had to move a platform out of they way because the buggers claimed not to have seen the warnings. Musk knows full well that when the chips are down, NSAS, ESA and all the other bodies with major satellites will always take the safe option with avoidance. They have far more to lose than the space equivalent of a can of beans.

    Now if NASA needed space to do something that produced some magical fairy dust that could make Musk's Tesla's recharge in 5 minutes it would be a different story.

    1. Binraider Silver badge

      Fun with Cable Ratings

      A Tesla Model S - battery apparently holds about 100kWh. Some good old GCSE physics goes a long way to explaining why a 5 min charge is near-ludicrous.

      The power delivery required for a full charge is about 1200kW of DC power (100*60/5). That means pumping 5000A at 240VDC, or about 2900A at 415VDC. (Using P=V*I). Ignoring losses.

      A cable capable of handling that kind of power is a pretty chunky lump of copper. For comparison, a quad-bundle transmission overhead line handles about 4000A of continuous load. That'll be at about 75 degrees C or so. So you have to add heavy insulation to your conductor to allow it to be picked up. And also limit the maximum surface temperature. You'll be hard pressed to get a cable to take that load without a decently long cooldown period between uses while observing those practical temperature limits.

      Higher voltages help, but that carries other, obvious problems.

      Throw in the fact that your local substation probably can't handle many loads that big, and the infrastructure coming from the sub to every house on your suburban estate definitely can't take that much.

      All things considered a 15-20 min recharge with a coffee is rather more sensible a proposition than a 5 minute turbocharge.

      If matching the convenience levels of existing chemical tech with electricity is the goal, a whole lot more infrastructure is needed (and who is paying for it / who is borrowing the money to do it / who gets it first etc?)

      1. Elmer Phud

        Re: Fun with Cable Ratings

        "The power delivery required for a full charge is about 1200kW of DC power (100*60/5). That means pumping 5000A at 240VDC, or about 2900A at 415VDC. (Using P=V*I). Ignoring losses."


        We've been promised a 'national network' of fast chargers -- but it seems that the public still thinks about a 13amp plug as a 'power connector'.

        The local charging points are just single phase, low current, sucking on the street lamp supply.

        I guess this means swapping the 13amp fuse for kitchen foil again.

        1. Binraider Silver badge

          Re: Fun with Cable Ratings

          The idea of the large charging stations directly connected to the transmission grid at motorway services is a good one, and is capable of delivering those very large quantities of power more or less without blinking. Assuming the consumer end of the charger can be constructed in a way to make them safe for Joe Average to use.

          But down at distribution levels, stuff coming into your street, neither the network, nor the investment in the network is there. And it would be a very, very large investment to be able to put chargers throughout, let alone fast chargers.

          There are other not so minor considerations about what you do with areas like Newcastle city centre Jesmond; nobody parks outside their own house. Standardised charging point plugs are a joke (just look at how many adapters are on the average Ecotricity point) and the billing method also to be worked out.

          It is all technically possible, but it needs the financial backing to do so.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Fun with Cable Ratings

            > charging stations directly connected to the transmission grid at motorway services

            This implies that you only have gas electricity stations where motorways are near a high capacity power line, which would limit their numbers. The alternative of building additional high tension lines all across the country is clearly impossible, due to the huge cost and general NIMBing.

            I'm afraid recharging will have to make do with whatever electrical capacity is locally available, which means that charging will be quite slow (at best) in most places, once EVs become really common. We might even see the invention of "Recharging hotels" in more capacity-limited areas, where you sleep overnight while your car gets slowly recharged...

      2. hoola Silver badge

        Re: Fun with Cable Ratings

        I was using humour.....

        I am well aware of the impossibility of charging a car battery in 5 minutes, hence the use of the term "fairy dust".

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