In the latest twist in the satellite industry, Boeing has decided to give up its license for a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation, a project that would have competed with SpaceX’s Starlink network.
Boeing’s plans to build a broadband Internet constellation are officially complete. At least for now. On Monday, Boeing officially surrendered its license to build the system and paid the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) a $2.2 million forfeiture penalty reported in Aerospace Daily, a subsidiary of Aviation Week. The FCC officially revoked Boeing’s license, which had already been granted, on October 12th originally granted will join the company in November 2021.
“Boeing is committed to responsible spectrum allocation and space use,” Michelle Parker, vice president of Boeing Space Mission Systems, said in an emailed statement. “As part of this commitment, we followed all regulatory requirements when making strategic business decisions regarding our spectrum allocation.”
Boeing is optimistic about the commercial potential of V-band given the growing global need for satellite internet, Parker said. She added that the company is continually reviewing its spectrum usage to meet business and regulatory needs, but is “prioritizing more immediate growth steps at this time.”
Regarding Boeing’s decision, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk commented on X on Tuesday say“Competition with SpaceX is fierce.” The billionaire’s Starlink remains the dominant player in the space, with over 4,900 operational units currently in low-Earth orbit. after to Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer Jonathan McDowell. Musk is clearly gloating, but there is some truth in his pithy statement; SpaceX has the decisive advantage that it can launch its Starlink satellites at cost and does not have to hire a launch provider.
Boeing initially showed great interest in establishing its own presence in the satellite constellation sector. Ryan Reid, president of Boeing Commercial Satellite Systems, discussed the company’s intentions during an interview with Aerospace Daily in 2021, expressing Boeing’s desire to develop partnerships for a Non-Geostationary Satellite Orbit (NGSO) constellation. Reid clarified that Boeing’s approach would be different from SpaceX’s Starlink and would focus on business-to-business agreements, similar to the model adopted by OneWeb, rather than Starlink’s direct-to-consumer model. He added that while Boeing doesn’t directly compete with Starlink, its customers do.
Boeing launched its prototype satellite Varuna in September 2022 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission, marking an important first step in the development of its satellite constellation. The aim of this mission was to test the technologies intended for the entire constellation and to ensure their functionality in space. A Sherpa LTC 2 transfer vehicle host Boeing’s Varuna-TDM (Varuna Technology Demonstration Mission) payload remains operational in orbit.
“Our V-band test mission provided valuable data and insights. “Right now, we’re not pursuing a V-band constellation right away,” Parker said. “We will continue to invest in opportunities that advance connectivity in space.”
Related article: What is the difference between Starlink and SpaceX’s OneWeb?
The FCC originally granted Boeing a license to operate a V-band constellation of 147 satellites, but Boeing later applied to expand it to more than 5,000 satellites. The FCC’s strict requirements stipulated that Boeing must deploy half of its constellation by November 2027 (i.e. six years after the license was granted). According to Aerospace Daily, Boeing’s request to relax these deployment rules was rejected by the FCC, which aims to prevent spectrum squatting (a practice in which companies have a license to use spectrum but do not actively use it, potentially allowing other companies to participate prevented from accessing valuable communications frequencies). It’s not clear whether the 50 percent rule contributed to Boeing’s decision to drop the project. Boeing did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for clarification on the matter.
Boeing has backed away from its mega-constellation ambitions, while SpaceX continues to solidify its position as a major player. However, this doesn’t close the door for other potential competitors to enter the satellite internet battle. Amazon’s Project Kuiper is actively progressing, highlighted by the recent successful launch of two prototype satellites. Other notable competitors vying for a share of the satellite internet market include the aforementioned companies OneWeb, Telesat and Astra.
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