SpaceX has asked the Federal Communications Commission for approval to begin testing its Starlink satellite-based cellular system, which would enable it to send text messages, transmit voice calls, and offer a data connection from space using radio airwaves owned by T-Mobile.
Elon Musk’s rocket company made the request in a filing, which was uncovered by PC Mag. The “special temporary authority” status would give SpaceX permission to use 840 satellites with cellular systems to begin sending signals to 2,000 test devices on the ground. The company said that at any given time, 60 of those satellites would be operating at once.
The filing represents a small step forward for SpaceX and T-Mobile’s ambitions to offer wireless service from space, a goal that the two companies announced at a splashy event a year and a half ago. The key benefit is that the large number of satellites in space could reach areas that T-Mobile’s ground network could not, eliminating a lot of dead zones, particularly in far-flung, underdeveloped regions of the country.
But the project had been met with of silence, with the one year anniversary of the announcement going by with barely a mention. Last month, SpaceX had attempted to get approval to test the service without going through the usual process, but AT&T and the Rural Wireless Association objected, saying it needed to go through the proper vetting process. The two had previously objected to the test, expressing concern that the system could interfere with existing cellular services.
SpaceX had sent a letter to the FCC in July talking about the benefits of the service and how it would safeguard against interference. But AT&T and the Rural Wireless Association have been vocal in their opposition. This comes after AT&T successfully tested its own 5G phone call from space in September.
The new request goes through the proper process, and is directed at the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology. In the request, SpaceX certified that it will operate without causing interference, but would take reasonable steps to eliminate any interference that does arise.