SpaceX President: SpaceX Might Not Need 42,000 Starlink Satellites For Quality Internet Coverage

“We obviously want to launch more satellites, because more and more people want to use the service. . . .I don’t think we’ll need 42,000 satellites to deliver quality service globally.”

According to Ms. Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), her firm does not need 42,000 satellites to provide its Starlink satellite internet service customers with high-quality worldwide access.

The first satellites of SpaceX’s huge, already-largest constellation are presently being launched into orbit. Ms. Shotwell’s remarks were cited by the French media after she gave an interview with Le Point, and these satellites will be supplemented by the second-generation satellites that it intends to launch with the Starship next-generation vehicle. Another outlet, DataNews, cited the executive from the original interview, which is hidden behind a paywall.

The remarks by the SpaceX executive come as the company fights the FCC for permission to launch its next-generation satellites

A total of 42,000 spacecraft, largely in low Earth orbit, are intended to be launched into orbit by Starlink’s entire constellation, which includes both first and second-generation satellites (LEO). The business is currently deploying first-generation spacecraft, and in its first plans disclosed with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 2019, it announced intentions to launch an additional 30,000 spacecraft into orbits with a range of 328 to 520 kilometers.

Ms. Shotwell reportedly said that 42,000 satellites are not required for “excellent” worldwide coverage, as reported by DataNews (translated by Google Translate), with the executive claiming that:

Since more and more individuals want to utilize the service, we obviously want to deploy additional satellites. In my opinion, we won’t need 42,000 satellites to provide high-quality service everywhere.

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Although the few comments make no mention of whether significantly decreasing the number of satellites would worsen Starlink’s coverage, they do show that whatever advancements the head of SpaceX may have in mind will be adequate to bring access to the majority of the world’s areas. The second generation satellites from SpaceX will be quite different from the first, and they’ll have more data transmission capacity and be bigger too.

At the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), SpaceX’s request to launch the 30,000 second-generation satellites using Starship rather than the Falcon 9 has been met with a barrage of opposition from the company’s competitors. Thousands of satellites in orbit, according to some, pose an environmental risk. Viasat, for example, complained to the Commission in May of this year that:

The deorbit of only 29,988 Gen2 satellites would release around 13,000,000 pounds of alumina into the atmosphere, according to a simple estimate that SpaceX has employed. The planned Starlink expansion may cause SpaceX to release nearly 156,000,000 additional pounds of alumina into the upper atmosphere if replacements for those Gen2 satellites throughout a 15-year license period are taken into account, as well as the possibility that Gen2 satellites will be four times as big.

Ms. Shotwell during her interview with Le Point published yesterday. Image: Le Point/YouTube

Even Viasat said that the FCC should perform an environmental study of the second generation Starlink constellation using NASA’s (NASA’s) request that SpaceX does extensive safety assessments of its satellite constellation to verify that NASA assets would not be at any risk. NASA, however, followed up with a second letter to make it clear that its suggestions are not meant to influence SpaceX’s request’s conclusion. In March, SpaceX added crucial safety safeguards to its network.

Ms. Shotwell highlighted Starlink’s capacity to provide worldwide broadband service in a brief excerpt from her discussion with Le Point. In terms of download speeds, her company’s service has routinely outpaced the whole world’s broadband internet over the past couple of quarters, and her prior remarks indicated that SpaceX is aiming Starlink at a $1 trillion market.


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Written by Alex Bruno

Freelance space writer Alex Bruno specializes in covering China's quickly expanding space industry. In 2021, he started writing for SpaceXMania. He also contributes to publications including SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, and New Scientist. When Alex was a small child, he first experienced the space bug after seeing Voyager photographs of alien planets in our solar system. When not in space, Alex likes to go trail jogging in the Finnish countryside.

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