Boeing’s satellite internet constellation approved
The FCC has approved a Boeing satellite internet project first proposed in 2017. Boeing can now build, launch, and operate its own satellite internet network, joining main aerospace competitor SpaceX.
Boeing intends to launch 132 satellites into 1,056 km low Earth orbit (about 656 miles). 15 more will be sent into “non-geostationary orbit” between 27,355 and 44,221 km (16,998 to 27,478 miles). While the network is being built, the company says the satellites will provide “broadband internet and communications services to residential, government, and business users in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.”
The 147 satellites would all broadcast in the V-band, which is higher than the Ka and Ku bands used by SpaceX’s Starlink network or Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellites. Using V-band could speed up data transfer but introduce more interference because higher frequencies have a harder time penetrating solid objects. (Both SpaceX and OneWeb intend to use V-band in future satellites. Satellites that provide in-flight internet on commercial airlines use the Ka and Ku bands.)
According to SpaceX, Boeing’s proposal to launch into already crowded low orbits could increase the risk of collisions. According to Reuters, SpaceX told the FCC in 2019 that Boeing’s network posed a “clear danger of harmful interference.” Its Starlink satellites orbit the Earth at 550 km (roughly 342 miles) altitude, similar to OneWeb’s internet satellite constellation (and where Amazon’s satellites will go once launched). Earlier this year, SpaceX and OneWeb almost collided.
To deploy the entire network, Boeing has six years to launch half of the satellites. A 12-year window for launching the entire constellation was requested by the company, but the FCC denied it, according to the order published Wednesday.
SpaceX and Amazon, on the other hand, envision networks with thousands of satellites each. Boeing is a major satellite manufacturer, so it sold to early space-based internet providers before and after its 2017 proposal. But providers are now expected to generate over $50 billion by 2031, which could explain why Boeing spent four years getting approval.