US approves SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet for use on planes and ships
- The Federal Communications Commission has authorised Elon Musk’s SpaceX to use its Starlink satellite internet network with moving vehicles
- SpaceX has steadily launched some 2,700 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit since 2019 and has amassed hundreds of thousands of subscribers
Starlink, a fast-growing constellation of internet-beaming satellites in orbit, has long sought to grow its customer base from individual broadband users in rural, internet-poor locations to enterprise customers in the potentially lucrative automotive, shipping and airline sectors.
“Authorising a new class of terminals for SpaceX’s satellite system will expand the range of broadband capabilities to meet the growing user demands that now require connectivity while on the move,” the FCC said in its authorisation published Thursday, echoing plans outlined in SpaceX’s request for the approval early last year.
SpaceX has steadily launched some 2,700 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit since 2019 and has amassed hundreds of thousands of subscribers, including many who pay US$110 a month for broadband internet using US$599 self-install terminal kits.
The Hawthorne, California-based space company has focused heavily in recent years on courting airlines around Starlink for in-flight Wi-fi, having inked its first such deals in recent months with Hawaiian Airlines and semi-private jet service JSX.
“We’re obsessive about the passenger experience,” Jonathan Hofeller, Starlink’s commercial sales chief, said at an aviation conference earlier this month. “We’re going to be on planes here very shortly, so hopefully passengers are wowed by the experience.”
SpaceX, under an earlier experimental FCC license, has been testing aircraft-tailored Starlink terminals on Gulfstream jets and US military aircraft.
Competition in the low-Earth orbiting satellite internet sector is fierce between SpaceX, satellite operator OneWeb, and Jeff Bezos’s Kuiper project, a unit of e-commerce giant Amazon.com which is planning to launch the first prototype satellites of its own broadband network later this year.