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Boeing gets green light for satellite internet

Company plans more modest constellation than SpaceX's

Satellite hovering over earth

The US government has given Boeing permission to launch a satellite internet system that will compete with other operators, such as SpaceX's Starlink. 

In an order authorization released this week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved Boeing's application to launch the network, which will serve residential and business users in the US. The application, which dates back to 2017, covers 132 low-earth-orbit satellites and another 15 non-geostationary units for a total of 147. 

The application doesn't say which satellites Boeing will use, but the company unveiled its 702X satellite in 2019. The satellite is software-defined, meaning operators can program it from the ground to reallocate bandwidth in line with changing communications needs. It has sold 11 of these satellites to SES, another operator that sells internet services to organizations, including airlines, cruise lines, and other network service operators. 

This is a more modest plan than SpaceX's, which launched its first set of Starlink satellites in 2019. The company has FCC approval for around 12,000 satellites and already has around one-tenth of them in orbit. It has also filed paperwork to launch another 30,000 after that in its bid to attain global coverage. 

The appetite for large-scale satellite launches is increasing as more companies plan space-based internet services. Aside from SES and Boeing, other companies operating or planning space-based internet services include ViaSat, Eutelsat, Telesat, Hughes, and OneWeb. Amazon's Project Kupler also gained approval to launch its own internet-based satellite services in July 2020. 

The proliferation of satellites in orbit creates additional dangers of space collisions and debris. OneWeb said one of its satellites nearly collided with a Starlink unit in April, although SpaceX challenged those statements in a filing. 

The FCC requires satellite operators to provide clear plans for avoiding space-based debris from satellites, and its approval of the Boeing constellation depends on it providing that plan. Boeing will provide that as it designs the constellation, it added.

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