FCC grants polar launch approval for Starlink satellite spacecraft

The Federal Communications Commission will permit SpaceX, on a future mission, to deploy 10 Starlink satellites into the polar orbit. Still, it has postponed a verdict on a much wider license change for SpaceX. The FCC authorized SpaceX approval to deploy 10 Starlink satellites into 560-kilometer orbit with a tilt of 97.6 degrees in an order released on January 8. As part of the Transporter-1, a dedicated Smallsat rideshare project, these satellites will fly on the Falcon 9 no later than January 14.

For weeks, SpaceX has been pressing the FCC for approval to deploy Starlink satellites into the polar orbital plane. Simultaneously, the FCC proposes a license amendment to lower the satellite orbits initially allowed for the higher altitudes. That did include an order for the 58 satellites to be launched into a polar orbital plane on November 17, noting “a chance for the December polar launch,” which it did not name.

SpaceX stated it talked with FCC authorities the day before about this appeal in a January 5 filing with FCC. “SpaceX announced that its upcoming Transporter-1 mission would include the 10 Starlink satellites intended for service in the polar orbits if it gets the legal clearance,” the corporation said. In the filings, SpaceX claimed that attaching at least several satellites to the polar orbits will allow Alaska, not in the coverage area of current Starlink satellites deployed into the mid-inclination orbits, to commence operation.

In its November filing, the firm added that “deploying into the polar orbits would allow SpaceX Agency to introduce the same broadband service of high quality to the most remote locations of Alaska that some Americans have continued to depend on, particularly as the epidemic limits in-person contact possibilities.” Other satellite operators criticized the move. Viasat claimed in a November 19 filing that the ‘commercial expediency’ would not be a valid excuse for the FCC to approve SpaceX to deploy satellites into the polar orbit, raising questions about the stability of Starlink satellites as well as the threats they present to the orbital debris.

The Federal Communications Commission, in its order, decided that it’s in the general public interest to permit SpaceX to deploy the 10 Starlink satellites into the polar orbits. The accurately identifies, “We consider that partial granting of ten satellites would promote the continued production and evaluation of the SpaceX’s broadband service in the high-latitude geographical areas in the near term before further action is taken to resolve arguments in the record concerning both the granting of the complete modification as well as the entire subset of the polar orbit satellites.