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Amazon seeks FCC’s OK for Kuiper satellites

Jeff Bezos
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

By Alan Boyle and Taylor Soper

Amazon is asking the Federal Communications Commission for approval of its Project Kuiper satellite broadband venture, and referring to potential synergies with Amazon Web Services as a strong selling point.

GeekWire first reported news of Project Kuiper in April, when Amazon revealed plans to put more than 3,200 satellites in low Earth orbit for global broadband coverage.

That revelation was contained in documents that were filed with the International Telecommunication Union. On July 4, Amazon’s wholly owned Kuiper Systems subsidiary followed up with a fresh set of FCC filings.

The filings confirm that the project would consist of 3,236 satellites in 98 orbital planes, at altitudes ranging between 366 and 391 miles (590 and 630 kilometers).

“Amazon’s mission is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, and the Kuiper System is one of our ambitious projects to fulfill this mission,” the application reads. “The Kuiper System will deliver satellite broadband communications services to tens of millions of unserved and underserved consumers and businesses in the United States and around the globe.”

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FCC approves SpaceX’s revised satellite plan

Starlink simulation
A simulation shows how a 4,425-satellite constellation could be deployed for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service. (Mark Handley / University College London)

The Federal Communications Commission today approved SpaceX’s proposed revisions in its plan to put thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit to provide global broadband connectivity, clearing the way to start launching satellites next month.

SpaceX already had authorization for 4,425 Starlink satellites that would use Ku- and Ka-band radio spectrum to beam internet data, but last November, the company asked the FCC to sign off on a plan that would put more than a third of the satellites in 550-kilometer-high (340-mile-high) orbits rather than the previously approved 1,150-kilometer (715-mile) orbits.

Eventually, SpaceX plans to add another wave of more than 7,500 satellites in even lower orbits to enhance the constellation’s coverage.

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SpaceX seeks OK for a million earth stations

Starlink simulation
A simulation shows how a 4,425-satellite constellation could be deployed for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service. (Mark Handley / University College London)

SpaceX has opened a new window into its ambitious plans for a global satellite broadband data network, thanks to an earth-station license application filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

The application, filed on behalf of a sister company called SpaceX Services, seeks blanket approval for up to a million earth stations that would be used by customers of the Starlink satellite internet service. The stations would rely on a flat-panel, phased-array system to transmit and receive signals in the Ku-band to and from the Starlink constellation.

Those satellites have already received clearance from the FCC, and SpaceX plans to launch the first elements of the initial 4,425-satellite constellation this year, using Falcon 9 rockets. The company sent up its first two experimental broadband satellites last year and has been tweaking its plans for Starlink as a result of those space-to-ground tests. Eventually, SpaceX wants to build up the network to take in as many as 12,000 satellites in low Earth orbit.

The application filed with the FCC on Feb. 1 focuses on the receiving end of the space-based service.

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Super Bowl could host drone-detecting face-off

DroneHunter at work
A video view from Fortem Technologies’ DroneHunter aircraft shows the targeting of an unauthorized drone. (Fortem / Today Show)

Fortem Technologies, a Utah-based venture that makes drones as well as radar detection systems, wants to be in on a drone-hunting test to be conducted during Sunday’s Super Bowl in Atlanta.

The test could turn into a high-tech matchup that parallels the football face-off between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.

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Echodyne seeks clearance for Super Bowl radar test

Echodyne radar
Echodyne’s radar antenna system is about the size of a paperback book but can track drones from a distance that’s 10 times as long as a football field. (Echodyne Photo)

Kirkland, Wash.-based Echodyne, a radar-focused startup backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, is seeking the Federal Communications Commission’s expedited approval to have its drone-detecting radar system used in an experiment planned during the NFL’s Super Bowl in Atlanta.

The request, made in an application to the FCC, came to light today in a report published by The Guardian.

The experiment would reportedly compare Echodyne’s low-cost, miniaturized radar platform against other detection systems in the “no-drone zone” that the Federal Aviation Administration has set up for Sunday’s Super Bowl football contest between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams

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Swarm raises $25M for space-based IoT network

Ben Longmier and Sara Spangelo
Swarm Technologies was founded by chief technology officer Ben Longmier and CEO Sara Spangelo, who is holding one of the company’s super-miniaturized SpaceBEE satellites. (Swarm Technologies Photo)

A year after making a $900,000 mistake, Swarm Technologies is raking in $25 million in a funding round aimed at getting a constellation of sandwich-sized satellites up and running for the Internet of Things.

Getting the constellation in orbit could open up a big frontier for tiny satellites within the next year and a half.

“We’re just excited to get launched and get our network up there and start offering global, affordable internet,” said Swarm CEO Sara Spangelo, a veteran of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Alphabet’s X “moonshot factory.”

The satellites, known as SpaceBEEs, are so small that the Federal Communications Commission turned down the Silicon Valley startup’s application for a launch license last January. The mission went ahead anyway — largely because Seattle-based Spaceflight, the company that was taking care of the logistics for liftoff aboard an Indian PSLV rocket, didn’t know Swarm’s application had been rejected.

Last month, Swarm agreed to pay the FCC’s hefty fine, submit to closer oversight for the next three years and draw up a detailed plan for compliance with the agency’s rules. “It’s probably sufficient to say we take all compliance issues very seriously,” Spangelo told GeekWire.

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Swarm Technologies stung by $900,000 fine

SpaceBEE satellite
As initially designed, Swarm Technologies’ controversial SpaceBEE satellites were each roughly the size of a sandwich. (Swarm Technologies Illustration via FCC)

The Federal Communications Commission says Swarm Technologies must pay a $900,000 fine and be subject to increased scrutiny for having a tiny set of satellites launched without authorization.

The penalties were laid out in a consent decree issued today.

“We will aggressively enforce the FCC’s requirements that companies seek FCC authorization prior to deploying and operating communications satellites and earth stations,” Rosemary Harold, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a news release.  “These important obligations protect other operators against radio interference and collisions, making space a safer place to operate.”

California-based Swarm is aiming to develop a constellation of miniaturized telecommunications satellites that would enable “low-cost, space-based connectivity anywhere in the world.”

The company drew the FCC’s ire after a four-pack of its sandwich-sized satellites, known as SpaceBEEs, was launched aboard an Indian PSLV rocket in January — even though the agency had turned down its application for authorization. FCC officials were concerned that the 4-inch-wide, 1-inch-thick satellites would be too small to be tracked in orbit.

The launch was facilitated by Seattle-based Spaceflight, which said it was not aware at the time that Swarm’s application had been rejected.

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FCC OKs plan for 7,500 SpaceX satellites

Image: Satellite web
An artist’s conception shows a constellation of satellites in orbit. (Credit: OneWeb)

The Federal Communications Commission today gave the go-ahead for SpaceX to operate a constellation of more than 7,500 broadband access satellites in very low Earth orbit — and also gave the go-ahead for other satellite constellations chasing similar markets.

SpaceX’s plan to put 7,518 V-band satellites in 215-mile-high (345.6-kilometer-high) orbits meshes with a complementary plan to put more than 4,400 satellites in higher orbits for Ku- and Ka-band service. Last week, SpaceX filed an amended application seeking to put 1,584 of those satellites into 342-mile orbits instead of the originally specified 715-mile orbits.

The different orbital altitudes are meant to provide a mix of wide-angle and tightly focused transmission beams for global broadband access. SpaceX could start offering satellite internet services as soon as 2020, if all goes according to plan and the company sticks to its launch schedule.

SpaceX’s facility in Redmond, Wash., has the lead role in satellite development for the Starlink constellation. The first Starlink prototypes were launched in February.

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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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SpaceX’s Starlink satellite plan wins FCC’s approval

SpaceX Starlink satellites
SpaceX’s two prototype Starlink satellites are seen on either side of their carrier in advance of February’s launch. (SpaceX via YouTube)

The Federal Communications Commission says it has approved SpaceX’s application to provide broadband internet access via thousands of Starlink satellites — a new breed of spacecraft that’s currently under development at the company’s Seattle-area facilities.

SpaceX launched its first test prototype satellites, known as Tintin A and B, as secondary payloads last month. The California-based company plans to put 4,425 spacecraft into low Earth orbit for the first phase of what’s intended to be a low-cost satellite internet service.

“This is the first approval of a U.S.-licensed satellite constellation to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies,” the FCC said today in a statement.

SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, said she appreciated “the FCC’s thorough review and approval of SpaceX’s constellation license.”

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