SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch Kennedy Space Center, February 6, 2018.
Despite delays, the launch of Artemis I drew renewed national attention to space travel. It’s the first trip to the moon in 50 years, meaning nearly two generations of Americans have never seen a similar launch. The story led the news for days before the first launch date on August 29, and it was expected that up to 500,000 people from around the world would be in Cape Canaveral, Florida to watch the unmanned spacecraft launch. The focus on Artemis isn’t surprising, but it’s simply one of hundreds of launches happening almost every day that will have a much more direct impact on everyone’s lives.
In 2021, 1,807 objects were launched into space, according to the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, but that number is incomplete as 12 percent of the world’s launches are not registered with the bureau. The vast majority of launches have been carried out by a few companies including Blue Origin, India’s space research organization, OneWeb and SpaceX. Many of these launches are used for low-Earth orbiting satellites, which operate between 500 and 2,000 kilometers from Earth and provide access to the Internet.
As noted in Citizens Against Government Waste’s January 2022 report “The Future of American Aerospace,” the privatization of space by companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX has resulted in lower launch costs for all satellites and has given companies like broadband access cheaper access to space and individual space travel. The number of objects launched into space in 2022 is expected to be greater than in 2021.
LEO satellite networks provide connectivity in areas that have limited or no broadband capacity, not just in the United States but around the world. SpaceX’s Starlink deployment in Ukraine is an example of how, with the right equipment, such a network can be rapidly deployed in remote areas. According to reports, 150,000 people in this country use the Starlink Internet service every day, which allows continuous connection despite the war.
On Aug. 25, SpaceX and T-Mobile announced they were merging to bring broadband services to rural Americans. On October 26, 2021, Amazon’s Kuiper Systems announced that it will partner with Verizon to expand 5G coverage using broadband satellites. If the Federal Communications Commission approves the expansion of these services, millions more Americans will have access to broadband in areas that were previously unserved or underserved.
The satellites that will be sent into space will need access to spectrum, including in the 17 GHz band, to provide broadband access on Earth. This is one of the reasons why the August 3 FCC report and the ordering and promulgation of proposed rulemaking updating the 17 GHz rules for satellite internet services were critical. The report and order would allow geosynchronous orbiting satellites (space-to-earth) to operate in the 17 GHz band and allow geostationary orbiting satellites to use the spectrum to reach fixed locations while safeguards are in place to protect existing users, including of the incumbent users of direct transmission satellite spectrum.
The announcement of the proposed rulemaking to enable the non-geosynchronous fixed-satellite service (Space to Earth) offers the opportunity for the Commission to consider whether this band should also be made available for non-geosynchronous operations in order to continue providing satellite broadband.
Citizens Against Government Waste has promoted a technology and carrier neutral approach to broadband deployment that uses the best technology for the region where networks are deployed and firmly opposes any government mandated preference or requirement for any single solution. Many available technologies can provide broadband across the country, and for rural and remote areas satellite broadband should be among those available.
While lunar launches are always exciting and continue to expand knowledge of space and the universe, the more practical and effective use of satellites and rockets is to improve life worldwide through better access to online information and bridging the digital divide. The FCC should continue its efforts to increase the use of the 17 GHz spectrum for broadband access.