SpaceX Names Satellite Broadband Service, Works FCC Connect America

September 29, 2017
By: Doug Mohney

What's in a name?  "Starlink" is the potential title for SpaceX (News - Alert)'s massive satellite network to deliver high-speed Internet access, reports Florida Today.  The company has filed two trademarks for Starlink with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, one applicable to satellite communications and research into the field and the other related to hardware, including satellites, ground terminals, and satellite Earth stations to control the network.

SpaceX's Starlink network would be composed of an initial 4,425 satellites put into orbit by 2024, plus another 7,518 satellites to add more bandwidth in the future, according to media reports and testimony to Congress. CEO and SpaceX founder Elon Musk believes a massive, low-flying satellite communications network can offer speeds competitive with or even better than terrestrial fiber optic cabling, since signals would be moved in a point-to-point fashion and transmitted between satellites via laser without the delays introduced by moving light through glass.  Existing fiber optic network rely on sending signals through cables that follow the curves and rights-of-way where they have been put, with switches and routers adding additional delays.

Musk isn't planning to build such a network simply out of the goodness of his heart. He needs a continuing revenue stream to fund plans for ultimately putting a colony on Mars, with broadband services being a big piggy bank.  SpaceX's current launch services business is very lean, with proceeds redirected into improving the companies lines of Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon spacecraft.

Launching satellites is expensive, but SpaceX has demonstrated the ability to land and reuse the expensive first stage of the Falcon9.  The company has over a dozen "flight-proven" Falcon 9 first stages today, with more expected to be added to its inventory in the future. With a fleet of reusable rockets, SpaceX essentially will have "surplus" launch capacity it will use to put up its satellite communications cloud.

SpaceX is also positioning its future satellite service to qualify for government funds.  The company asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) to consider it as a potential Connect America Fund award recipient, according to Space News. The Connect America Fund is designed to support broadband build-out to around 23 million Americans who lack access to high-speed infrastructure in urban and rural areas, with up to $198 million in subsidies expected to be provided to voice and broadband carriers over the next decade.

Low-latency satellite would provide a perfect solution for rural consumers seeking high-speed internet access. SpaceX wants to make sure it can participate in the Connect America Fund once it gets Starlink open for business, indicating the company is thinking long-term and working "the system" as needed.  I'm wondering if we'll see a SpaceX Starlink presence at CES (News - Alert) 2018, but that may be too soon.