Elon Musk's SpaceX can put satellites into orbit in more rings than it initially was approved for, the Federal Communications Commission ruled.
The FCC said SpaceX can put satellites in orbit in 72 rings around the planet at 550 kilometers up — three times as many orbits as it was initially granted in April. Each ring will have 22 SpaceX satellites instead of 66, as previously approved, a change that SpaceX says will allow it to populate each ring more quickly.
SpaceX already has more than 120 satellites in orbit - and plans thousands more — as part of an initiative to vastly increase the availability of internet service. Getting some of the satellites in orbit faster could allow the privately-held company to start new commercial satellite operations in 2020 in some Southern and Eastern U.S. states, in time for next year's hurricane season.
“Grant of this application will allow SpaceX to accelerate the deployment of its satellite constellation to deliver broadband service throughout the United States, especially to those who live in areas underserved or unserved by terrestrial systems,” the FCC said.
SpaceX said the orbit changes could reduce the number of Starlink launches, possibly by 50%. The company's last Starlink launch of this year is slated for late December.