Boeing files FCC application for 3,000 satellite constellation

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

The competition heats up: Boeing this week submitted its second application to the FCC for its own 3,000 satellite constellation to provide “a wide range of advanced communications and Internet-based services.”

The second application this week specifically requested permission to launch the first 60 satellites. The whole plan is comparable to the one that SpaceX submitted earlier this week, and puts these two companies in direct competition. If both plans are launched, it will mean that more than 6,000 satellites will need launch services to gain orbit, which also means the launch business could get very busy in the coming years.


  • Gealon

    At the risk of sounding a little skeptical about these multi-thousand satellite constellations…

    Yay! More space junk! That ride into space is looking safer and safer.

  • eddie willers

    Space is pretty big.

  • wayne

    as well….
    “It is Very Cold, in Space.” (Or so they say…)

    Gealon– yeah, it does sound a bit Fantastical. Wish them luck– we shall see what transpires.

    Q: How many launches will this require?
    (I don’t think the EPA is going to play ball. All these new & improved Regulations, aren’t going to write themselves, are they?)

  • Edward

    wayne asked: “Q: How many launches will this require?

    Nice question, and we can do a little math:

    The article says that for the first phase, “Three separate constellations would cover the Americas, Africa and Europe, and Asia and Australia” in highly inclined orbits that are about as high as the geostationary orbit (GEO). The map shows that there will be three separate planes, requiring at least three separate launches of 20 satellites on each launch. A Boeing Delta IV can lift 28,000 pounds to a transfer orbit for geostationary satellites (GTO). Thus, for a Delta IV launch (by ULA), each of these satellites can weigh about 1,400 pounds. The article mentions a second set of 20 satellites to be launched in phase 2.

    That is a total of 4 launches for the first 80 Boeing satellites.

    Boeing plans at least 35 orbital planes in a 1,200 km low Earth orbit (LEO) for the remaining 2,900 or so remaining satellites, which would mean about 83 satellites per orbit. A Boeing Delta IV can lift 62,000 pounds to LEO, but probably less to this higher LEO. Assuming that the Boeing satellites weigh about as much as the SpaceX satellites, 850 pounds, then they can put fewer than 72 into each of these LEOs with each Delta IV launch. Thus, there may need to be two launches per plane (42-ish satellites per launch), for another 70 launches to put all these LEO satellites into orbit.

    This comes to at least 74 launches for the Boeing satellite constellation.

    SpaceX’s satellites are supposed to be 850 pounds, and a Falcon 9 can lift about 22,800 pounds to LEO. My math shows that a maximum of 26 satellites can go on one Falcon 9. Assuming that they want this many in each orbit, that means a minimum of 171 launches to put their entire fleet of 4,425 satellites on orbit. Since they are orbiting a bit higher than the usual LEO satellite, there may have to be more launches than that. As noted before, it also depends upon how many orbital planes they want to have.

    So, at least 74 launches for Boeing and at least 171 launches for SpaceX.

    SpaceX wants to do this in a five-year timeframe. Since their satellites are estimated to have 5 to 7 year lifetimes, the continuing pace to replace and update this system will be the same as for the original launches. If we assume that Boeing’s timeframe and lifetimes are similar, then they, too, will need a high launch pace for their satellites.

    Consider that for the past half century there have been only around 100 orbital/deep space launches per year worldwide. In order for these two companies to get their satellites into orbit, in addition to the regular number of launches, there would have to be about 15 launches per year for Boeing and about 35 launches per year for SpaceX. These two companies will increase the worldwide launch cadence by about 50%.

    When Iridium first launched, they had to do similar math to figure out how to get their 77 satellites on orbit using the three launchers that they had chosen for their 11 orbital planes. As I recall, each plane required two launches of 5 and 2 satellites per launch, depending upon the launcher used, for a total of 22-ish launches. Iridium did not look so daunting as these other two do, but maybe Boeing and SpaceX have learned from Iridium’s launch (and operations) experience.

  • wayne

    Thanks for those factoids!
    >Mr. Z mentioned your calculations on the John Batchelor show for 11-22-16.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *