The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said in a statement it had approved a license for the aerospace giant “to construct, deploy, and operate a satellite constellation” that will “provide broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental, and professional users in the United States and globally.”
The FCC gave the green light for 147 satellites, the vast majority of which will be in low orbit: 132 could be placed at an altitude of about 600 miles (1,000 km), and 15 would be much higher, between about 17,000 and 27,000 miles.
Although more known for building large spacecraft for geostationary orbit (GEO), Boeing acquired small satellite specialist Millennium Space Systems in 2018 to bolster its expertise in the expanding NGSO market.
“As the demand for satellite communications grows, diversity will be required across orbital regimes and frequencies to satisfy unique customer demands, and we see V-band as helping to provide some of that diversity,” Boeing added.
V-band frequencies are higher than the Ka-band and Ku-band spectrum used by SpaceX’s Starlink — the largest NGSO broadband operator with more than 1,600 satellites in LEO.
As well as permitting Boeing to provide fixed-satellite services in portions of V-band, the FCC approval allows the company to operate inter-satellite links in certain V-band frequencies.
Using higher frequencies could enable faster broadband services, however, they also pose interference risks amid the potential for rain attenuation that can degrade V-band transmissions.
Boeing now has six years to launch half of its satellite constellation and nine years to deploy the entire network. The company had asked the FCC to loosen those requirements — it wanted to only commit to launching five satellites in the first six years, and asked for a 12-year window to launch the entire constellation — but the commission denied that request.
In 2019, Elon Musk’s SpaceX urged the FCC to reject Boeing’s plan saying it presented a “clear danger of harmful interference” to other systems or “at a minimum impose appropriate conditions to ensure that Boeing’s operations do not harm those of other” operators.
In April, the FCC voted to approve a SpaceX plan to deploy some Starlink satellites at a lower earth orbit than planned as part of its push to offer space-based broadband internet.
Starlink operator SpaceX claimed that Boeing’s plan would cause interference, but the FCC rejected SpaceX’s argument that Boeing should face additional requirements.
Objections from rival satellite operators are common in these proceedings. SpaceX recently blasted Amazon for objecting to Starlink plans, saying that Amazon was using an “obstructionist tactic” to delay a competitor. Amazon pointed out that SpaceX itself “routinely raises concerns with respect to its competitors’ currently filed plans, including with respect to interference.”
SpaceX had asked the FCC for approval to fly 2,824 satellites at a lower orbit as part of the plan to provide high-speed broadband internet services to people who currently lack access.
SpaceX has already put more than 1,500 satellites into orbit to create the Starlink network, while Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has a similar project called Kuiper.
SpaceX plans to eventually deploy 12,000 satellites in total, has said previously the Starlink constellation will cost it roughly $10 billion.