The internet will soon be beamed down faster and wider from space, courtesy of Elon Musk.
The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday green-lit a plan from SpaceX, Musk’s space exploration company, to use a group of satellites to send high-speed broadband internet to parts of the country and the world that don’t currently have reliable internet access. It’s the first approval of a U.S.-licensed satellite constellation to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies.
“With this action, the Commission takes another step to increase high-speed broadband availability and competition in the United States,” the FCC said in a statement Thursday.
And on Friday, SpaceX started its work, launching 10 communications satellites into space that are capable of doing just that.
Though not part of SpaceX’s network, these satellites, called Iridium Next, are part of one of the largest commercial satellite arrays.
SpaceX has been talking about Starlink, as it’s calling its satellite internet plan, for years and started regularly meeting with the FCC to get it approved in 2017. Those meetings apparently clicked on Thursday, with the FCC ruling that SpaceX could move forward with the project. They’ll be starting with an array of 4,425 satellites, that circle the Earth in low orbit and beam the internet down from the stars.
In February, SpaceX launched its first prototypes of the small satellites that it’ll need to send internet down to the remote parts of the planet. It’s planning to eventually have 12,000 of them in orbit.
But SpaceX has a fair bit of competition. Other companies are in the game, notably OneWeb, a Channel Islands-based firm that already has FCC approval to provide broadband satellite services to the U.S. market. Both companies plan to launch their operational internet-providing satellites in the next year.
Extending broadband access to remote parts of the country is a priority of the Trump administration’s infrastructure plans, in addition to its other more analog infrastructural goals like fixing roads and bridges.