FCC Grants SpaceX Limited Approval for Starlink Cellular Tests

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has partially granted SpaceX’s request to deploy its cellular Starlink system, intended for T-Mobile smartphones. This decision, made on Friday, allows SpaceX to perform short tests to verify the functionality of the satellite service’s radios.

SpaceX is authorized to deploy a modified version of its Gen2 Starlink satellites, the FCC confirmed, reports PCMag. However, this authorization is limited to checking the antennas on the satellites immediately after deployment, for a period not exceeding 10 days. The satellites will operate within the 1910-1915MHz and 1990-1995MHz bands, as per the FCC’s directive.

The ruling mandates SpaceX to avoid radio interference with other services during these tests, including coordination with potentially affected operators. “In the event of any harmful interference during SpaceX’s limited on-orbit check out, SpaceX shall cease operations immediately upon notification of such interference,” the FCC stated, emphasizing the company’s obligation to report any such incidents immediately.

Full FCC approval remains pending for SpaceX before it can launch the cellular Starlink system for U.S. consumers. The Commission’s decision to defer parts of the application is attributed to SpaceX’s failure to complete a “Schedule S” form, detailing the satellites’ technical and operational specifications. SpaceX sought a waiver for this requirement, citing limitations in the Schedule C form.

Despite not receiving an immediate response from SpaceX and the FCC, it is known that SpaceX has been advocating for regulatory clearance to operate the cellular Starlink system. The company recently filed a separate application to test the technology over 840 satellites, which is still awaiting FCC’s nod.

Concerns about radio interference from rival companies have led the FCC to consider a balanced approach as it deliberates full approval for SpaceX’s application. The company aims to launch the cellular Starlink system for satellite-based text messaging next year, contingent on regulatory approvals.