A recent SpaceX filing with the FCC details plans to use Starlink to deliver Internet access to people on the move. The plans will include creating a modified dish that can receive signals from satellites in the Starlink constellation and be mounted to large vehicles like RVs, trucks, ships, and airplanes.
Although the filing indicates that the service might eventually be available for passenger cars like Tesla’s electric vehicles, Elon Musk says that SpaceX has no particular plans to include passenger vehicles at this time.
The application outlines hardware that SpaceX calls “Earth Stations in Motion,” which can be mounted to vehicles registered with the United States’ regulatory agencies or operating in United States territory and waters if the application is approved. The paperwork implies that the service could seriously compete with mobile data providers, saying that people should no longer have to “forego connectivity while on the move, whether driving a truck across the country, moving a freighter from Europe to a US port, or while on a domestic or international flight.”
The filings indicate that the Earth Stations in Motion are electrically identical to its already-approved consumer user terminals. The only noticeable difference is a mount that makes it possible to attach the stations to a vehicle. They will be capable of communicating with Starlink satellites that are at least 25 degrees above the horizon.
With the most recent launch of 60 satellites, which occurred early in the morning of March 11, there are currently 1,265 satellites in orbit out of a planned constellation that could grow to as many as 42,000 satellites. SpaceX says that this will be enough to provide high-speed Internet access to most of Earth, including regions that have previously been neglected by the developers of Internet infrastructure and Internet service providers. Although the company has been criticized for the high upfront cost of access to the “Better than Nothing Beta” version of Starlink, it is currently looking to make it more affordable to the low-income customers who would be a natural part of its target audience.
SpaceX has separately filed with the FCC for permission to increase the number of end user terminals that it can deploy from 1 million to 5 million. The filing for the Earth Stations in Motion indicates that the mobile terminals will transmit in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band and receive in the 10.7-12.7 GHz band, making it possible to avoid interference with other transmitting devices.
Company officials have already expressed annoyance with other companies like Dish Network over what SpaceX calls an attempt to “commandeer” the 12 GHz band and interfere with Starlink’s obligation to use public funds to develop broadband Internet service in previously neglected regions with a complaint filed with the FCC.
The existing stations can easily be set up by new customers. However, the mobile stations may require special equipment and the assistance of a company technician to install. Some observers have speculated that SpaceX may still make it possible to install its Earth Stations in Motion on a Tesla vehicle. For now, though, it will be limited to larger vehicles.