SpaceX Continues Filing Requests For Starlink Ground Stations Despite FCC Lull

Jul 6

Aerospace launch service provider and equipment manufacturer Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) has been regularly launching its in-house telecommunications satellites dubbed 'Starlink' for quite some time. Via Starlink, SpaceX intends to not only provide internet coverage to users in remote and other corners of the world via satellites, but the company also intends to use the profits generated to potentially fund its Starship launch vehicle system, intended to place humans on the Martian surface.

To that end, SpaceX is busy filing requests with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for letting it establish earth ground stations for communicating with the Starlink constellation. The company's latest filing, made on Thursday, requests the Commission to grant it the right for operating earth stations in Prosser, Washington and Roll, Arizona, and it adds to the ones that the company has already filed over the course of this year and the last.

SpaceX Invests $70 Million In 12GHz Starlink Terminal Production

SpaceX Requests FCC Approval For Starlink Earth Stations As Company's Applications Continue To Pile With The Commission

The application is a part of SpaceX's planned earth stations for Starlink which will work in tandem with the company's satellite constellation. These stations will play the role of conduits between the user and the datacenters where websites or other internet-based companies host their products.

SpaceX's application for new ground stations in Prosser and Roll brings the number of such applications for earth stations that it has filed with the FCC to 32. This figure is opposed to the company's plans to have at least one million of such stations according to an application for satellite earth stations that the company filed with the regulatory body last year. This application (SES-LIC-INTR2019-00217) was filed in February last year, and the FCC is yet to provide the public notice of approval for this filing.

Reviewing the filings made by SpaceX so far, it's clear that the company has a long way to go before its earth stations in the U.S. become fully operations. Out of all of the company's filings with the FCC, applications for ground stations in only five cities have been accepted so far. Additionally, while the applications for earth stations in McGregor and BocaChica Texas have not been publicly approved by the FCC, SpaceX has nevertheless been able to obtain a Special Temporary Authority (STA) that expired last month to for evaluating the Starlink network's performance and operational status.

SpaceX as an entity does not file the applications with the FCC; instead, its the company's sister company titled SpaceX Services, Inc. that deals with the Commission for Starlink ground stations. Taking a brief look at SpaceX's filing history, it's clear that the only applications for ground stations that have been publicly listed for approval by the FCC are the ones that were filed last year.

SpaceX's first applications for ground stations were made last year when it filed requests for authority to construct Ka band gateways in Maine and Montana. Both were accepted by the FCC a month later and since then, the company filed only two more applications for base stations in 2019. The FCC's response to SpaceX's applications made in 2020 has been mixed; while the Commission has not publicly approved any of SpaceX's applications this year, the time that it's taken to change the applications' status has been sporadic.

Ground stations are necessary especially for early stage Starlink satellites since the satellites do not have laser emitters on board. These emitters have been deemed crucial in the network's design for letting the satellites determine the optimum path in between ground stations on earth. Through them, for instance, a Starlink satellite receiving data from Los Angeles will determine which satellites to relay this data to for completing the path between the Los Angeles ground station and one that is potentially located in New York or London.