FCC approves new smaller and larger Starlink dishes
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued approval for SpaceX to introduce two new Starlink dishes, one smaller and one larger than the current models.
The smaller of the two is about the size of a notebook computer and will enable Starlink Roam RV users to have more utility in storage and deployment. The second, larger dish is 22.4 inches by 14.7 inches, designed to optimize performance.
The first of these new dishes approved by the FCC measures 11.4 inches by 9.8 inches, approximately the size of an Apple MacBook. With its smaller form factor, it opens the door to an array of possibilities for improved connectivity as the compact size not only simplifies installation but also offers users greater flexibility in choosing where to place it compared to the current dish, which measures 20.2 inches by 11.9 inches. The larger form factor is designed for high performance and will outperform SpaceX’s current line of fixed models.
The new dishes will communicate seamlessly with both first- and second-generation Starlink satellites, promising a more reliable and efficient connection for subscribers. Specifics regarding a launch date, official pricing, or potential speed enhancements were not published in the application.
The FCC’s current grant of approval covers only stationary use of the new Starlink dishes. SpaceX has requested approval for the dishes to be used on vehicles, but the FCC has withheld a ruling on mobile use due to a conflict with Dish Network over a purported interference issue. The FCC ruled against Dish Network’s interference filing in May, so at the time of writing it is unclear why the commission withheld the in-motion approval for Starlink’s new dish equipment. SpaceX can be expected to file to have the approval expanded to include mobile broadband Wi-Fi operation.
Mysterious increase in lost satellites
Starlink, the world’s most successful satellite internet provider, currently has more than 5,000 low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites providing extensive broadband coverage and impressive bandwidth. SpaceX launches another payload of 22 satellites every few days, to eventually deploy more than 30,000 orbiters. For RVers, Starlink is the most extensive and reliable internet connection available.
SpaceX has a spotless safety record of launching the thousands of satellites in its constellation without a loss, while at the same time reusing its launch vehicles.
Not often mentioned in the reporting about Starlink is the fact that the satellites are expendable, and designed to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere and burn up when their orbits degrade. Interestingly, though, satellite tracking data shows that SpaceX lost 212 satellites between mid-July and mid-September, a much higher-than-normal rate of attrition. The satellites have not reached the end of the design service life, and so there is a question of what is happening to so many orbiters. The increase in losses seems to be somehow correlated to the dramatic increase in SpaceX launches that occurred in the July-September timeframe.
Not the first time
SpaceX has lost Starlink satellites before. In February 2022, space weather caused 47 satellites to re-enter the atmosphere and burn.
While a solar storm was the cause, the satellites were lost because SpaceX launched them despite knowing that the storm could adversely affect the fleet.
Also in February 2022, SpaceX lost some of the 21 Starlink V2 Mini satellites due to an undisclosed problem resulting in their de-orbiting. At the time, Elon Musk said that the issue was related to the new technology used in the V2 Mini design. He said that SpaceX would initiate de-orbit but that some satellites could be saved and continue to rise to their operational orbits.