SpaceX considers Alaska-based stations to improve worldwide internet satellite network

A white shack in a forest
A Ketchikan Public Utilities networking facility sits at the end of Shoup Street in the Saxman area. Until recently, SpaceX was in talks with the city to lease a portion of the land near the facility to host a ground station for its Starlink internet network, but the borough planning commission declined to authorize a key permit for the site Tuesday after hearing objections from neighbors. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

An aerospace and technology company is considering building key parts of a satellite network in Alaska — including Ketchikan, Nome and Fairbanks — that, according to the company, could help improve internet access across the globe.

It’s part of a project currently being developed by California-based SpaceX called Starlink. The company says its low-cost satellite dishes could eventually offer high-speed satellite internet, even in sparsely populated areas.

The company plans to build ground stations around the world, with facilities spanning the globe from Europe to Australia to the southern tip of South America.

SpaceX filed an application last week with the Federal Communications Commission to build a “gateway earth station” consisting of eight antennas at a site in Ketchikan.

In its application, the company said the 9-foot antennas would transmit and receive broadband data between the company’s satellites and the terrestrial internet.

Ketchikan-based engineer Brett Serlin, contracted by SpaceX, told the local planning commission Tuesday the facility would control and track the company’s satellites, which aim to bring broadband internet to underserved areas.

“It is a global high-speed internet system to provide access for internet, relatively low-cost internet — like, $100 a month is what they’re looking at right now — to people in locations that are very challenging to develop the infrastructure for internet. So Alaska is one of their primary areas they’re focusing on,” Serlin said.

While most areas of Ketchikan are connected to fiber optic or copper wire telephone networks, the satellite network would help bring internet access to more remote locations.

Serlin said SpaceX is also looking to build ground stations in Fairbanks and Nome. The company applied for an FCC permit for the Fairbanks facility last week.

SpaceX was, at one point, in talks with the City of Ketchikan to lease around 3,000 square feet of city land in the Shoup Street area south of town. But Ketchikan City Manager Karl Amylon wrote in a memo Thursday the company is now looking elsewhere: The planning commission postponed issuing a land use permit for the facility, after neighbors complained they weren’t properly notified of the company’s plan.

The commission did approve another permit request from SpaceX in a commercial area near Ketchikan’s Walmart, but not clear if SpaceX intends to move forward with the Rex Allen Drive site — the company hasn’t responded to calls and emails.