SpaceX Starlink Launch into Polar Orbit Approved by FCC

According to SpaceNews, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved SpaceX’s plans to launch 10 Starlink satellites into polar orbit.

With the FCC already considering SpaceX’s request for a modification of its license to lower the orbits of satellites that are currently in higher orbits, SpaceX began lobbying the commission for approval to launch at least a small number of Starlink satellites into polar orbits so that the satellite internet network may provide services to remote regions like parts of Alaska that are currently out of the constellation’s coverage area.

A polar orbit is a high-inclination, low-altitude variant of a low-earth orbit (LEO) in which a satellite passes over or by Earth’s poles.

In a filing with the FCC back in November, SpaceX noted that “launching to polar orbits will enable SpaceX to bring the same high-quality broadband service to the most remote areas of Alaska that other Americans have come to depend upon, especially as the pandemic limits opportunities for in-person contact.”

Seeing SpaceX’s fast-moving plans for expansion and rave reviews from users as a threat, other satellite operators were (naturally) against the motion, citing concerns of orbital debris hazards.

In an order published on January 8, the FCC determined that objections against SpaceX’s proposal were unfounded and granted SpaceX permission to launch 10 Starlink satellites into a 560 km polar orbit with an inclination of 97.6 degrees.

“We find that partial grant of ten satellites will facilitate continued development and testing of SpaceX’s broadband service in high latitude geographic areas in the immediate term pending later action to address arguments in the record as to both grant of the modification as a whole and the full subset of polar orbit satellites,” stated the FCC order.

The ten Starlink satellites will be launched into polar orbits on a Falcon 9 as part of SpaceX’s upcoming Transporter-1 rideshare mission, set for January 21.

While the FCC did approve SpaceX’s plans, it reserved a decision on the modification of SpaceX’s license as a whole. Unfortunately, the order contains no language indicating when a final ruling on the matter can be expected.