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FCC Approves SpaceX to Launch New, ‘Very-Low-Earth-Orbit,’ Internet-Beaming Satellites

In a move that is expected to expand satellite Internet connectivity, the US Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted Thursday to allow SpaceX and three other companies to deploy new satellites systems.

The approval allows Elon Musk’s company to operate more than 7,000 “very-low-Earth orbit” satellites and the additional flexibility to provide “both diverse geographic coverage and the capacity to support a wide range of broadband communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental and professional users in the United States and globally.”

Operating satellites at lower orbit should speed up the signal, allowing for more things such as video streaming.

The FCC also said the approval is intended to increase competition in the market. They also approved requests from three other satellite communication companies to deploy satellites: Canada-based Telesat and Kepler Communications, as well as Washington D.C.-based LeoSat Enterprises.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that satellite technology stands to provide high-speed internet for Americans who live in places that are harder to serve by fiber optic cables and cell towers, and could also keep communications up during natural disasters, Reuters reports. Pai was an early supporter of the project.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr added that the new satellites are “smaller and less expensive to launch than the traditional geostationary satellites that have been going up since the 1960s,” Reuters reports.

Currently, satellite-based internet is used by ships and airplanes, the news agency reports.

In response to concerns that SpaceX satellites will physically threaten other satellites in orbit, Musk said he plans to position satellites at least 31 miles apart, and that the company is developing ways of reducing risks associated with bringing down satellites that have reached the end of their working lives.

The company is launching its 18th mission of the year today, sending a rocket carrying a satellite into space and then landing part of that rocket so that it can be reused.