Starlink

Starlink test satellites are stacked atop a Falcon 9 rocket, close to being put into orbit in this 2019 image. Courtesy SpaceX

North Pole may become a host site for a “satellite Earth station,” under a plan by Elon Musk’s SpaceX to develop a global internet network that reaches remote communities in Alaska and around the world.

SpaceX Services Inc. has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission to develop an Earth station to support the company’s Starlink Internet Network, a proposed worldwide satellite system for beaming high-speed broadband internet service. 

“Starlink is really meant for those who are least served,” Musk said in a tweet about his goals for the internet service.

Other companies vying to bring the internet to communities where it is a challenge include Alaska-based Pacific Dataport, working with OneWeb, and Amazon’s Kuiper Systems.

The competition to deliver satellite broadband service would help to close a digital divide between connected communities and sparsely populated areas without access.

In its FCC application, SpaceX identified “Fairbanks, AK” as the site for an Earth station. SpaceX also has considered Earth stations in Ketchikan and Nome.

According to coordinates provided on the FCC application, the site for the Earth station is vacant land at or near an existing satellite tracking facility in North Pole, in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. That facility is run by the U.S. division of the global Swedish Space Corp., or SSC Space U.S. 

The News-Miner asked SSC Space U.S. if the company is partnering with SpaceX for the Earth station. 

Anni Bölenius, head of communications, said this week: “It is correct that SSC Space U.S owns and operates a satellite station in the North Pole, but we do not comment on any station activities.”

FCC approval needed for station

FCC authorization is required for SpaceX to operate a transmitting satellite Earth station.

The applicant must specify frequency bands and satellites to be used by the Earth station, the diameter of the antenna, and proposed power and power density levels, the FCC said in an email statement to the News-Miner. 

“SpaceX Services seeks authority for a new Ka−band gateway Earth station located in Fairbanks, AK,” according to the FCC application. 

Local zoning rules allow for communications facilities without a zoning permit, said Christine Nelson, who directs the  Department of Community Planning for Fairbanks North Star Borough.

SpaceX is setting up Earth stations, also known as ground stations, around the globe to communicate with its satellites. Satellites fly at low Earth orbit to enable faster internet service, as the signal has a shorter distance to travel. Antennas at Earth stations are remote-controlled to transmit and receive data, according to the FCC application. The Earth stations link to data centers that connect to the world wide web.

“SpaceX is looking forward to connecting locations on Earth where internet connection is unreliable and non-existent,” according to Tesmanian, which reports on SpaceX and other Musk ventures. 

Global internet service for consumers everywhere

SpaceX is launching thousands of satellites to achieve global internet service. 

In January, a rocket carried 10 satellites to polar orbit, as part of a testing and development phase to facilitate internet access to remote areas that include Alaska. This week the FCC granted a request by SpaceX to fly 2,814 satellites at a lower orbit, enabling faster internet service in the Arctic region. 

“Several individuals, businesses, and organizations from Alaska submitted letters urging the approval for “SpaceX to begin deployment of its Starlink service in Alaska,” the FCC said in an order and authorization released April 27.

Consumers in remote Alaska, including people in tribal communities, discussed “the scarcity of reliable internet service, the extreme expense of the internet service that is available, the difficulties of maintaining that service, and the effect this has on Alaska communities,” the FCC said.

“They argue the Starlink service will finally bring ubiquitous internet connectivity within reach for these areas.” 

The Starlink Internet Network, which is in beta mode, is up and running in many parts of the U.S. and abroad.

Consumers can access unlimited, high-speed broadband service, for $100 per month, after an initial purchase of a small dish with a WiFi router, stand and cables for $500, which the company ships to subscribers. 

In February, Government Technology reported that Starlink is letting Alaskans sign up for service, in advance of delivery, projected for 2022. 

“Starlink is ideally suited for areas of the globe where connectivity has typically been a challenge,” according to the Starlink website. 

“Unbounded by traditional ground infrastructure, Starlink can deliver high-speed broadband Internet to locations where access has been unreliable or completely unavailable.”

 

Contact political reporter Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics