SpaceX will soon start launching a new generation of Starlink broadband satellites, which could help the company deal with surging demand, according to a report.
SpaceX, which was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, is dealing with congestion on its broadband network despite launching hundreds of first-generation Starlink satellites on Falcon 9 rockets this year, according to SpaceNews.
The latest Starlink launch was on Dec. 17, and launch calendars suggest that SpaceX is targeting Dec. 28 for another Starlink mission, pending weather and technical matters.
That mission may be the first to loft Gen2 Starlink satellites, which are bigger and more capable than the current generation. In a recent filing with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), SpaceX said that it plans to start launching Starlink Gen2 craft by the end of 2022, SpaceNews reported.
On Dec. 1, the FCC granted approval for SpaceX to deploy 7,500 Gen2 satellites. That was just a partial approval; SpaceX applied for permission to deploy nearly 30,000 of these satellites in low Earth orbit.
SpaceX officials asked the FCC to grant a 60-day temporary authority to connect already deployed user terminals to the new satellites. In the recent filing cited by SpaceNews, SpaceX said this temporary measure would let users "access ... increased capacity," which presumably would speed up user internet speeds.
An analysis from the Seattle-based company Ookla suggests that median Starlink download speeds are falling in both the United States and Canada, which may be an indication of popularity and strain, SpaceNews reported.
Starlink has nearly 3,300 operational satellites in orbit out of 3,612 launched overall, according to statistics from Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who tracks Starlink on his website.
Starlink Gen2 satellites will be capable of beaming service directly to smartphones, Musk has said. SpaceX plans to launch most of these satellites using its huge Starship rocket, which is still in development. But the first Gen2 Starlink craft will apparently go up on the company's workhorse Falcon 9.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.