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SpaceX sets sights on lower Starlink satellite orbits

Satellite constellation
The satellite coverage scheme described in a patent application envisions two sets of satellites orbiting in different inclinations at different altitudes. (PatentYogi via YouTube)

SpaceX wants to lower the bar for its first batch of Starlink broadband satellites, with the aim of beginning deployment by the end of 2019.

The revised plan is laid out for regulators at the Federal Communications Commission in filings that seek a lower orbit for 1,584 of the more than 4,400 satellites it envisions launching. The new target orbit would be 550 kilometers (342 miles) in altitude, as opposed to the 1,150-kilometer (715-mile) orbit described in SpaceX’s initial round of filings.

The FCC signed off on SpaceX’s original plan in March, and would have to approve the revisions after putting them through a public comment period.

In its filings, SpaceX said it was changing the plan based on its experience with Tintin A and B, the two prototype satellites it put into orbit in February.

Those spacecraft, which were built at SpaceX’s satellite development facility in Redmond, Wash., have been undergoing testing for months. Some observers wondered why the Tintin satellites weren’t sent into a higher orbit as planned — and the revised constellation plan could provide an explanation.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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