In the race to deliver Internet from space, companies are asking the FCC for approximately 38,000 new broadband satellites

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A large number of space companies applied to the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday for new or expanded broadband networks and asked the regulator to approve a total of nearly 38,000 satellites.

Amazon, Astra, Boeing, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Hughes Network, OneWeb, SpinLaunch and Telesat are among those asking the FCC for access to the so-called V-band spectrum, a frequency range that companies want to use to provide broadband service worldwide the universe.

The FCC’s deadline for its latest round of processing proposals to use V-Band was midnight Thursday, which boosted the influx of requests.

“It’s just a land grab,” Quilty Analytics founder Chris Quilty told CNBC. Quilty’s boutique research and investment firm focused on the satellite communications sector.

“The hardest part of building one [low Earth orbit] Broadband system acquires the spectrum, not satellites build and launch. This is an attempt by any company with future plans to make a beach claim that is not currently being claimed, “added Quilty.

In particular, the companies that applied on Thursday have a variety of backgrounds and existing plans.

Amazon is working on an initial constellation of 3,236 satellites called Project Kuiper. Astra is a rocket builder that has already announced that it will begin building spacecraft. Boeing received FCC approval for a constellation of 147 satellites earlier this week. UK company OneWeb is about halfway through deploying its initial constellation of 648 satellites in orbit. The Canadian operator Telesat is working on a constellation of 298 satellites called Lightspeed. SpinLaunch is focused on building an alternative launch system, while Inmarsat, Intelsat and Hughes have existing satellite communications networks.

The number of satellites proposed on Thursday in each company’s new or expanded constellation:

  • Amazon – 7,774
  • Astra – 13,620
  • Boeing – 5,789
  • Inmarsat – 198
  • Intelsat – 216
  • Hughes – 1,440
  • OneWeb – 6.372
  • SpinLaunch – 1.190
  • Telesat – 1,373

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has already deployed 1,740 of its Starlink broadband satellites, wasn’t among the youngest contenders. The FCC has previously approved SpaceX to launch approximately 7,500 V-band Starlink satellites, and the company is working on plans for nearly 30,000 satellites in its “Gen2” system.

Why companies submit

How the FCC will respond to the flood of applications and who will be given permission to proceed is unclear. But the motivation is said Summit Ridge Group President Armand Musey. His advice specializes in evaluations for companies in the telecommunications and satellite industries.

“Everyone wants to put a mission out there and one way to put a mission out there is to get a statement and then, as you go, find out how exactly they are doing it or if they want to suggest changes to their original submission. But if you don’t have a stake in the floor regarding a filing, give up your option to participate, “Musey told CNBC.

In addition, the FCC’s historic role is to analyze whether applicants were properly filed, Musey said, rather than “making a judgment based on the assessment of business plans.”

A major problem with the possible increase in the number of satellites in low earth orbit is the risk of collisions and the creation of new space debris. The companies’ proposals include maneuvering systems and using the atmosphere to incinerate any failed satellites to combat this risk. The proposals also cover a wide range of heights, ranging from just 600 kilometers above the ground to 10,000 kilometers or more.

“Space debris is one of the topics that is becoming increasingly important in the industry,” said Musey. “If you have too many satellites up there and they start colliding with each other, you can set off a chain reaction sometimes called Kessler syndrome.”

“That is the existential threat that people are concerned about with all of these satellites, and there really isn’t a great central authority outside of individual governments to monitor and ensure satellites are deployed responsibly,” added Musey.

The V-Band Challenge

Satellite communication systems have traditionally focused on lower frequencies of the spectrum, such as the C-band, but have increasingly moved to higher but more difficult-to-use frequencies, such as the Ka-band, Ku-band, and now V-band.

“It’s harder to work with, but you can actually get more bandwidth, more throughput, and the technologies for using V-band are becoming increasingly practical,” said Musey.

The business model is “still speculated” with market focus, potential broadband speeds and more, which is reflected in the “wide variety of different constellation proposals out there,” Musey said. Right now, V-Band is “essentially an asset that you can trade to get business”.

The use of V-band “is a fundamental problem in physics,” Quilty said.

“The higher the frequency, the more susceptible you are to rain fading, weather attenuation, and other problems that degrade the signal,” Quilty said.

That means businesses need better antennas, more powerful satellites, and improved processing algorithms in order for V-band service to work for the delivery of consumer services. However, companies have overcome technological hurdles, which increases the potential use of the V-band.

“The entire history of wireless communications, whether satellite or terrestrial, has been a slow migration to higher frequencies over time,” said Musey. “The question is: when do you get the economically viable prices?”

Quilty also highlighted the lack of a robust supply chain as another challenge for companies looking to build V-band satellites and ground systems.

“It’s expensive, it’s early days, and sources are limited,” Quilty said. “I would argue that companies trying to build these components themselves will face significant engineering challenges.”