Starlink internet satellite constellation bid gets CRTC boost

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TORONTO – Plans for a high-speed satellite internet service to serve rural and remote parts of Canada got closer to launch last week when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved a licence application from Space Exploration Corp., SpaceX.

The application for a basic international telecommunications services (BITS) licence has been wending its way through CRTC bureaucracy since May. The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities threw its weight behind the application, as did a number of Island municipalities and a host of individual online commentators (2,585)—the vast majority of whom voiced enthusiastic support for the concept.

SpaceX is the brainchild of founder Elon Musk, who plans to launch tens of thousands of low-orbit satellites to create a “constellation” which he touts as “revolutionary” for remote regions and during catastrophic events where landlines are damaged. SpaceX is a successful private space exploration company that launches rockets, a number of them under the NASA brand.

While the BITS licence does not in and of itself give the greenlight to the service—SpaceX must still comply with regulatory requirements such as who has ownership and control of the service.

SpaceX has launched more than 800 of the 40,000-odd satellites it intends to put into orbit to provide near-full global coverage by 2021. The original SpaceX plan had projected connecting the Northern US and Canada by the end of 2020—but then came COVID-19.

Support for SpaceX has not been universal, however, as numerous astronomical associations have expressed concerns over light pollution and space debris. SpaceX has maintained that their low orbit satellites can either be steered into the atmosphere at end of life, or failing engine-powered descent, the satellite orbits will naturally degrade within a few years. As for light pollution concerns, SpaceX claims a newly designed “shade” on the satellites will ameliorate much of the luminescent impact.

Central Manitoulin council is the latest to endorse the FONOM proposal in principle, although originally deferring the decision at committee for further information.