WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted June 22 to make OneWeb the first of what will likely be several new non-geosynchronous orbit (NGSO) satellite constellations granted regulatory approval to operate in the United States.

In an open commission meeting June 22, the FCC approved OneWeb’s request, filed more than a year ago, to provide broadband internet service to the United States with a constellation of 720 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites using Ku- and Ka-band spectrum.

OneWeb’s FCC application, submitted under the name WorldVu, triggered a flood of 11 other applicants that all surfaced during the company’s processing round. Other contenders include SpaceX, which is proposing a system of more than 4,000 LEO satellites; Boeing, with up to 3,000 satellites; and ViaSat and Telesat, among others.

Tom Sullivan, chief of the FCC’s International Bureau, said the additional applications range from “as little as two satellites to as many as 4,000.” The other proposals are still under review by his bureau’s satellite division, he said.

“We hope to approve many more constellations because we know that the more companies compete, the more consumers win,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “The order lays the foundation for the deployment of future low-Earth orbit satellites while establishing carefully measured standards to ensure that these NGSO constellations won’t interfere with their terrestrial or geostationary counterparts, and the order provides that OneWeb will need to accommodate inline interference avoidance and spectrum sharing with other NGSOs in the future.”

OneWeb’s plans to launch its first satellites next year on Europeanized Soyuz rockets through Arianespace, and intends to begin operations in 2019. The company said earlier this month that its progress on developing the system was not impeded by the collapse of a planned merger with geostationary fleet operator Intelsat.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly cautioned that the topics of interference and prevention of orbital debris “will need to be considered further,” regardless of OneWeb’s approval. He also said that the increased demand for spectrum between both satellite and terrestrial communications, as evidenced by the heated spectrum debates surrounding the 2015 World Radiocommunications Conference, remains a challenge in need of resolution.

“This item is more of a first step, rather than a middle or final one,” he said. “Going forward there should be more holistic conversation and appropriate consideration of the complete picture of spectrum needs for both NGSOs and terrestrial use. As I’ve stated before, the satellite and wireless industries continue on a collision course both here and internationally as they seek spectrum for future systems. Generally I remain concerned that we may be foregoing opportunities for the clearing and sharing of spectrum by permitting additional uses on a piecemeal basis.”

O’Rielly said OneWeb’s authorization is conditioned on the outcome of a larger NGSO rulemaking proceeding by the FCC that has yet to conclude. In the FCC’s Order and Declaratory Ruling issued June 1, the agency said OneWeb “will not receive any special exemptions to the rulemaking based solely on this grant.”

OneWeb revealed Alaska Communications would be the company’s first reseller in Alaska, the largest state by land area in the country. The U.S. market has been the most active for residential satellite broadband, and has driven large high throughput satellites mainly from Hughes and ViaSat.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...