The Federal Communications Commission has approved SpaceX’s application to provide broadband internet access with satellites.
The FCC said in a statement Thursday that the approval was another step to “increase high-speed broadband availability and competition in the United States.”
Last month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had called for the agency to approve Hawthorne-based SpaceX’s application, which anticipates launching thousands of small satellites, saying satellite technology could help reach Americans who live in rural areas and increase competition in places where terrestrial internet was already available.
On Thursday, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell called the FCC approval an “important step,” but she noted in a statement that the company still had “much to do with this complex undertaking.”
SpaceX intends to create a so-called constellation of satellites that will provide broadband internet access at “fiber-like speeds,” particularly for small businesses and individual households, according to testimony from a SpaceX executive during an October Senate committee hearing.
The constellation, known as Starlink, would initially comprise 4,425 satellites. SpaceX, whose full name is Space Exploration Technologies Corp., launched the first two demonstration satellites in February.
The launch of those test satellites, which are box-shaped and measure about 15 cubic feet, is intended to test the spacecraft’s design, structure and subsystems.
If tests of the satellites and ground technology are successful, SpaceX could start launching operational satellites in phases next year and reach full capacity by 2024, according to the company executive’s Senate testimony. Commercial service could begin after 800 satellites are launched.
SpaceX has created an office in Redmond, Wash., dedicated to satellite development.