FCC Approves Boeing Satellites, Rejecting Claims of SpaceX Interference

A Boeing logo on the exterior of the company's headquarters.
Enlarge / Boeing office building in Arlington, Virginia.

Getty Images | Olivier Douliery

The Federal Communications Commission today granted Boeing permission to launch 147 broadband satellites. While that’s a fraction of the number of satellites approved for other Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations, the decision allows Boeing to compete in the emerging broadband market for LEO satellites.

“As detailed in its FCC application, Boeing plans to provide broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, government, and professional users in the United States and around the world,” the FCC he said in his ad approve the license.

The 147 planned satellites include 132 low ground satellites orbiting at an altitude of 1,056 km and 15 “steeply inclined satellites” that would orbit at altitudes between 27,355 and 44,221 km. The FCC authorized Boeing to conduct space-to-ground transmissions in the 37.5–42.0 GHz frequency bands and ground-to-space operations in the 47.2–50.2 GHz and 50.4–51 bands , 4 GHz.

In its 2017 application to the FCCBoeing said its plan to operate satellites at both high and low altitudes is “a cost-effective means of achieving global coverage.” The combination “will provide high-speed broadband communications to consumers wherever they are, while also providing the benefits of very low latency over LEO communications,” Boeing said. Boeing previously proposed a constellation that could have included nearly 3,000 satellites, but scaled back its plans.

SpaceX claimed interference

The Starlink SpaceX operator claimed that Boeing’s plan would cause interference, but the FCC rejected SpaceX’s argument that Boeing should face additional requirements.

“SpaceX raises concerns about interference from Boeing’s uplink beams to its highly inclined satellites and recommends that Boeing use higher gain antennas on those satellites with corresponding reductions in uplink power levels. We decline to adopt the proposal of SpaceX, “the FCC said.

The FCC previously refused to adopt additional requirements to avoid interference in its rules for non-geostationary satellites, instead opting for a “framework for coexistence” that satellite companies would use to cooperate. That earlier decision was incorporated into the FCC’s ruling against SpaceX’s request:

SpaceX does not provide any basis on this particular issue to justify deviation from the established framework already in place to address concerns regarding interference between NGSOs. [non-geostationary satellite orbit] systems, and adopt a special condition in this grant. According to our rules, NGSO FSS [fixed satellite service] Operators must coordinate in good faith the use of commonly authorized frequencies. When the possibility of interference exists, the parties involved must agree on measures to eliminate this interference (i.e. satellite diversity) or, in the absence of agreement, be subject to certain default procedures. Consequently, the operators of the FSS NGSO must agree measures to eliminate the risk of interference taking into account the power levels and the design of each system.

Objections from rival satellite operators are common in these proceedings. SpaceX recently criticized Amazon for opposing Starlink’s plans, saying Amazon was using an “obstructionist tactic” to delay a competitor. Amazon noted that SpaceX itself “routinely raises concerns regarding plans currently put forward by its competitors, including regarding interference.”


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