SpaceX wants to connect its Starlink satellite internet to moving vehicles

A Starlink user terminal is set up.

SpaceX

SpaceX plans to begin connecting moving vehicles – from cars and trucks to jets to ships – to its Starlink satellite Internet network, according to a request from the company to the Federal Communications Commission.

“This application would serve the public interest by approving a new class of ground-based components for SpaceX’s satellite system that extends the range of broadband capabilities available for moving vehicles in the United States and for moving ships and planes around the world are, “said SpaceX director of satellite policy David Goldman wrote in a letter to the FCC on Friday.

Starlink is the company’s capital-intensive project to build an interconnected internet network of thousands of satellites, known in the aerospace industry as a Constellation, designed to deliver high-speed internet to consumers around the world.

To date, SpaceX has launched more than 1,100 satellites for Starlink. In October, SpaceX began rolling out an early service in a public beta for customers in the US, Canada and the UK. The service costs $ 99 per month. In addition, SpaceX informed the FCC in an update at the end of January that the Starlink beta now has more than 10,000 users.

The Starlink service also includes a $ 499 upfront cost for the hardware needed to connect to the network. It is known as the Starlink Kit and contains a user terminal (the small, bowl-like antenna) and a wireless router.

SpaceX did not specify in its filing on Friday whether the Starlink user terminals for moving vehicles will have a different design than the dishes currently being delivered to early customers. According to SpaceX, each “ESIM” or “Earth Station In Motion” is “electrically identical to the previously authorized consumer user terminals”, with additional “brackets that allow them to be installed on vehicles, ships and airplanes”.

The company also stated that it will “ensure” the installation of the vehicle terminals by “qualified installers”. While SpaceX didn’t say whether these installers would be employees of the company, it continues to expand Starlink’s manufacturing and operations – including plans for a new equipment factory in Austin, Texas.

The Tesla Model X that brings astronauts to the launchpad for SpaceX.

NASA

Elon Musk’s space company last year asked the FCC for permission to conduct experimental tests on private jets and their fleet of ships. However, Friday’s request is a much broader “blanket license” to operate. SpaceX noted that the FCC rules “do not require applicants to submit a maximum number of user terminals to be deployed”. Therefore, the company did not specify how many vehicle terminals it would like to build.

SpaceX also noted that for US aircraft flying into another country’s airspace, the company will secure its Starlink service operators under either FCC or the other country’s rules, “whichever is more stringent.”

The company highlighted the need for “on-the-go connectivity” to drive the expansion to mobile Internet services, and Director Goldman gave examples of US truckers, European freighters and international flights as an indication of the need for global connectivity.

The rising demand for data from the automotive sector is an area that Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas has highlighted as a target market for Starlink. During a conference call for Tesla investors last year, Jonas Musk asked if the CEO was considering adding Starlink terminals to Tesla vehicles. While Musk said there were “no plans” for it in 2020, he conceded that “it is certainly something that could happen in the years to come”.

SpaceX now wants to make this possible.

“This application takes the next step in seeking authority over ESIMs that enable this network to expand from homes and offices to vehicles, ships and planes,” said Goldman. “These services will improve the security of mobile platforms and provide operators and passengers with access to services that enable greater productivity.”

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