The Federal Communications Commission today granted SpaceX a license to operate an array of broadband internet satellites, marking the first time the government agency has given the green light for a US-licensed low-Earth orbit broadband service. SpaceX co-founder and CEO Elon Musk has been discussing a micro-satellite constellation for providing broadband internet for years, and in 2017 the company began accelerating its efforts by meeting regularly with the FCC and applying for a license that would allow it to operate in an unused portion of the FCC-regulated broadband spectrum. The company plans to call the service Starlink.
Earlier this year, SpaceX launched the first two of its planned 12,000-satellite constellation. It appears that the company is starting out with a 4,425-satellite array, with the FCC requiring it launch at least half of those units within the next six years. “With this action, the Commission takes another step to increase high-speed broadband availability and competition in the United States,” the FCC said in a statement to CNBC. SpaceX is slated to start launching operational satellites for the network starting next year, when it will be going head to head with competing space internet provider OneWeb.
”We appreciate the FCC’s thorough review and approval of SpaceX’s constellation license. Although we still have much to do with this complex undertaking, this is an important step toward SpaceX building a next-generation satellite network that can link the globe with reliable and affordable broadband service, especially reaching those who are not yet connected,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, said in a statement given to The Verge. SpaceX hopes Starlink may become a big revenue generator that can help offset R&D and operations costs for the rocket company. Financial projections, disclosed by The Wall Street Journal last year, show SpaceX expects more than 40 million subscribers for Starlink by 2025, equaling roughly $30 billion in revenue.