SpaceX requests license for constellation of 30,000 W-band satellites

Internet starlink satellite in space near Earth.
Sheila Zabeu -

October 30, 2023

SpaceX has submitted a request to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to operate a constellation of around 30,000 satellites in 288 orbital planes at altitudes between 350 km and 614 km. The network, called ESIAFI II, plans to use W-band frequencies for fixed and mobile satellite services. The request was made through the island of Tonga, in the Pacific region, as a regulatory base. The information is from the Space Intel Report website.

Since its first license for the first generation Starlink was granted in March 2018, SpaceX has deployed thousands of satellites to bring broadband Internet access to various locations in the United States and abroad, even in remote regions. Five years later, the company had approximately 4,000 satellites in orbit by July 2023.

SpaceX also recently presented a new generation of satellites called V2 with two versions: one compatible with the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and the other compatible with Starship. According to the company, the V2 satellites launched on Falcon 9 are slightly smaller, which is why it refers to them as “V2 Mini”, but warns that, despite the name, a V2 Mini satellite has four times more capacity compared to its previous counterparts.

So far, the bands used by SpaceX satellites to provide broadband Internet services are the Ka and Ku bands. By definition of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Ka band uses frequencies from 27 GHz to 40 GHz and its main use is precisely communication with satellites. The Ku band ranges from 12 GHz to 18 GHz.

SpaceX also uses the V-band, which is the band between 40 GH and 75 GHz. Last March, the company asked the FCC for permission to use V-band payloads on new satellites instead of using a separate constellation. SpaceX has also asked the FCC to allow its second-generation fleet to operate in the V-band spectrum.

The W band, mentioned in SpaceX’s request to the ITU, occupies the band between 75 GHz and 110 Ghz, above the V band. It has already been tested by Ericsson and Deutsche Telekom in April 2021 for 5G backhaul.

The W-band is being considered an ally of the new High Throughput Satellite (HTS) systems because it offers extremely wide bandwidth capabilities. However, switching to higher frequencies also imposes challenges in terms of the complexity of modeling the propagation of signals through the Earth’s atmosphere. Atmospheric losses, noise, and temperature changes are more severe in the W band than at lower frequencies, such as the V bands.

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Another new feature from SpaceX is a page on the Starlink website for telephony services. Starlink satellites with Direct to Cell capabilities, compatible with current LTE phones, will give ubiquitous access to text messages from any location on land or coastal regions from 2024. Voice and data services should be available in 2025, as well as connectivity with Internet of Things (IoT) devices via the LTE standard.

Before officially launching the service, SpaceX needs authorization from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US agency responsible for overseeing the country’s radio spectrum and assigning radio and TV channels, telephone services and pay-TV.

Request for correction

The size of the Starlink constellations in space is already so large that it has prompted a report on the possible risks caused by satellite debris falling from space and injuring or even killing people on the ground. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the regulatory body that licenses satellite launches, presented a document to the US Congress at the beginning of October, stating that SpaceX satellites will be responsible for 85% of the risks to people on the ground and to aviation from re-entering space debris over the next decade.

The study suggests that, “if the expected growth of the great constellation materializes and if the debris from the Starlink satellites survives re-entry, one person should be injured or killed every two years” by 2035. The analysis calculates that the probability of an aircraft being brought down by a collision with space debris could reach 0.0007 per year by 2035.

SpaceX strongly contested the report in a letter dated October 9, describing the FAA’s allegations as “absurd, unjustified and inaccurate”, and asked the regulatory body to correct the report, CNN reported. In the letter, SpaceX states that its satellites are designed and built to disappear completely during atmospheric re-entry. According to the company, 325 Starlink satellites have left orbit since February 2020 and no debris has been found.