SpaceX's planned satellite constellation known as Starlink, now targets a much lower orbit than originally planned, at least for more than a thousand satellites, the company said in an FCC application. The move should help alleviate orbital waste and give a better signal to the company's terrestrial users.
Starlink plans to place 1,584 satellites – about one third of a total of 4,409 – that the company plans to launch in an orbit of just 550 kilometers around the surface of Earth. By comparison, many communications satellites are in orbits that are twice as high, and geosynchronous orbits are more than 20 times further out (about 36,000 miles).
At this distance, orbits drop quickly, fall into the atmosphere and burn down after a handful of years. But SpaceX is not unafraid. In fact, he writes in his application: Lower orbits provide "several attractive features for both normal operation and the unlikely event that something goes wrong."
First, orbital problems are mitigated by the fact that there is something in them low orbit falls quickly to the ground rather than disturbing the orbit. Second, the time it takes to send and receive a signal from the satellites should be shortened ̵
The satellites must work harder to stay at their optimum altitude, as the atmospheric drag is higher and everyone can see less and serve the planet. But with thousands who work together, this should be manageable.
The decision was made by experimental data of the test satellites "Tintin", which the company had started earlier this year. "SpaceX has learned to mitigate the downsides of operating at a lower altitude while still using the known and significant benefits discussed above," he wrote.
This change could lead to competitive advantages if satellite communications are used more often, but this will probably also lead to more intensive maintenance as Starlink birds keep falling out of the air. Fortunately, a third benefit of the lower orbit is that it is easier to reach, though it is probably not that much easier that the company even breaks.
At the beginning of next year, Starlink is aiming for the first real launches of its systems at something too ambitious. But SpaceX can be ambitious.