The rise of Elon Musk and SpaceX

 SpaceX asks to operate 5 million end-user terminals after the US approves Amazon’s rival satellite broadband plan.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has applied for a license to roll out five million ‘UFO on a stick’ end-user terminals, after 700,000 US residents signed up to be updated about the service’s availability.

“SpaceX seeks to increase the number of fixed earth stations authorized under this blanket license from 1,000,000 to 5,000,000,” the company said in an application to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

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Starlink satellite

The FCC in March approved SpaceX’s request to operate one million end-user terminals in the US. Then in June the company invited potential customers to register their interest in Starlink broadband by providing their email address and zip code.

SpaceX told the FCC it is applying for five million end-user terminals “due to the extraordinary demand for access to the Starlink non-geostationary orbit satellite system”.

The invite was opened as part of SpaceX’s plan to launch the Starlink public beta in North America in the coming month, by which time it will have put into orbit just 600 of the 12,000 satellites the FCC has approved for launch.

“Despite the fact that SpaceX has yet to formally advertise this system’s services, nearly 700,000 individuals represented in all 50 states signed up over a matter of just days to register their interest in said services at,” SpaceX said in its new application.

“To ensure that SpaceX is able to accommodate the apparent demand for its broadband internet access service, SpaceX Services requests a substantial increase in the number of authorized units.”

SpaceX filed for the new authorization on July 31, one day after the FCC approved Amazon’s Project Kuiper application to launch 3,236 broadband beaming satellites. Amazon plans to open its service once 578 Kuiper satellites have been launched.

While none of the nearly 700,000 people is yet a Starlink subscriber, the volume of early interest in Starlink satellite broadband reflects both Musk’s marketing nous and the number of people in the US population who aren’t satisfied with existing broadband options.

House Democrats in June announced a proposal to overhaul the current FCC definition of broadband by reclassifying 25Mbps download speeds as ‘unserved’ as part of a $100bn fiber broadband rollout.

Elon Musk has said SpaceX needs about 400 Starlink satellites to provide “minor” coverage and 800 for “moderate” coverage in North America. He’s also said that Starlink will cater to just 3% to 4% of the population in unserved and underserved areas, but that it would not be suitable for dense urban environments due to bandwidth limitations.

For the section of the population it does serve, SpaceX claims it will offer high-speed broadband with an estimated latency of less than 50 milliseconds.

Also in June it asked the FCC for approval to launch a further 30,000 second generation satellites.