SpaceX Moves a Step Closer to Airborne Satcom Service

 - July 5, 2022, 12:16 PM

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved SpaceX’s application to provide satellite communications for vehicles while in motion, which include “earth stations on vessels, vehicle-mounted earth stations, and earth stations aboard aircraft.” The approval is subject to certain limitations but paves the way for SpaceX to offer Ku-band airborne satcom using its Starlink satellite network. Public charter provider JSX is the first customer for airborne Starlink and it expects to begin offering the service later this year.

According to the FCC, “Authorizing 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, whether driving an RV across the country, moving a freighter from Europe to a U.S. port, or while on a domestic or international flight.”

Although SpaceX has not responded to AIN’s questions about its airborne Starlink service and equipment, there is some related information in the FCC’s June 30 Order and Authorization. The document cites SpaceX’s plan to use “advanced phased-arrays [antennas]” that “use software to track its…satellite and platform motion…” The SpaceX description was in a response to a complaint by Viasat that Starlink antennas would have trouble with “antenna pointing adjustments necessary for working with moving platforms sufficiently quickly…and how they would accurately determine whether and to what extent they are mispointed as the result of movements in the underlying mobile platform.”

In the FCC document, “SpaceX notes that its ESIM [earth station in motion] terminals incorporate industry-standard technologies such as micro-electro-mechanical system, inertial measurement unit sensors, and GPS receivers as well as advanced phased-array antennas with efficient sidelobes to maintain correct point, detect mispointing, and cease transmission well within the 100-microsecond threshold to comply with requirements set forth in the Commission’s rules.”

SpaceX has not released any information about equipment that will be offered for airborne Starlink applications, nor any performance specifications or pricing.