FCC chairman backs SpaceX plan for internet satellites

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SpaceX is scheduled to conduct its first West Coast launch of the year Saturday, when the company aims to carry a Spanish satellite into orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

WASHINGTON-A top federal regulator on Wednesday recommended approving Space Exploration Technologies Corp.'s plan to provide internet service through huge arrays of earth-orbiting satellites, in a move that could expand broadband availability across the US and beyond. Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fibre optic cables and cell towers do not reach.

The first test satellites for SpaceX's global internet constellation are being prepped for launch as early as this week - three years after SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled the project in Seattle.

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If SpaceX gets FCC approval, there are still other hurdles to clear, since operating a worldwide service will also require the blessing of a completely separate regulatory body, the International Telecommunications Union. A joint project with Airbus, OneWeb is now building satellites in France and will use Russian Soyuz rockets to launch some of its satellites.SpaceX was not immediately available for comment.

SpaceX previously sought approval from the agency to launch 4,425 satellites to deliver broadband to users in the USA and worldwide.

SpaceX has confirmed plans to enter the satellite broadband market with an application to the USS FCC for clearance.

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The demonstration launch is confirmed in SpaceX's FCC filings. A letter from OneWeb's attorneys to the FCC claims SpaceX has failied to "account for the safety risks of operating in such close orbital proximity to OneWeb and other systems". Telesat and fellow Canadian company Kepler Communications both launched satellites in January - Kepler a cubesat on a Chinese Long March 11 and Telesat a larger 168-kilogram smallsat on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. Commercial service could start after 800 satellites have been launched.

SpaceX has been on a role since the launch of the Govsat-1 back in January and the critical test launch of the Falcon Heavy on February 6.

Spacex is expecting this year and 2019 to be a rather busy one. The constellation is informally known as SpaceX Starlink and it would provide low-priced global internet access.

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