The ability to construct and launch satellites at such a fast pace shows the advantage of a vertically integrated space company: Most satellite firms face scheduling delays and big costs trying to get their satellites hitched to other companies’ rockets so they can get off the ground. With its own fleet of reusable rockets, SpaceX can move more quickly to get more satellites in orbit, faster.

Musk said it would take six more launches—360 more satellites—for “minor coverage,” and a dozen more launches—720 satellites—for “moderate coverage.” As always, Musk warned that things were likely to go wrong.

Assuming its satellite-manufacturing facility can keep up, SpaceX, which launched 21 orbital missions last year, could achieve that goal in the next few years alongside its current manifest of commercial and government business. For comparison, Arianespace, the European launch firm that will fly a 21-rocket campaign for OneWeb, launched just 11 orbital missions in 2018.

The tension between the two firms can be seen in their legal battles over US government licenses that give companies permission to launch and communicate with their satellites. With satellites operating near each other, coordination is vital to prevent interference and the potential for collisions and space debris that could create huge economic damage.

After SpaceX requested permission to operate its satellites following this launch, OneWeb’s lawyers objected in a filing to their rival’s “coercive approach,” arguing that “SpaceX actively wields the potential dangers of its uncontrolled spacecraft as a cudgel to attempt to force the Commission to grant [their request.]”

SpaceX responded that OneWeb’s “objections are frivolous and seem more like a last ditch effort to delay a competitor from initiating the process that will bring true broadband services to millions of Americans in underserved and unserved areas.”

The FCC apparently agreed with SpaceX, granting the authority for the launch. Under Republican chair Ajit Pai, the commission has approved 13,000 new satellites in the last year,  more than six times the existing population of active satellites orbiting earth. Many in the satellite business, and its industry regulators, worry that more needs to be done to ensure that the operations are conducted safely.

Jessica Rosenworcel, an FCC commissioner appointed by former US president Barack Obama, said last week that despite her support for new space activity, more needed to be done to ensure safety, including a comprehensive review of how the agency reduces the risk of satellite collisions.

“We need to move expeditiously to develop a realistic debris plan that can be implemented stat,” she said. “The new space age is not waiting—and we have work to do.”

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