SpaceX, which is delivering satellite broadband to select homes in the US, wants to conquer the next frontier of satellite broadband by connecting aircraft, trains and other moving vehicles.
The company outlined its ambitions in a new filing with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, has not been shy about sharing the company’s ambitions to connect transport systems with his constellation of Starlink satellites. He’s already outlined its plans to put Starlink satellites on trains in Europe and North America via tweets.
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But the company made those plans more official last week with an application to the FCC regarding the 4,400 satellites the FCC has approved it to operate at about 550km (340 miles) above Earth.
“To date, SpaceX has launched over 1,100 satellites and continues to deploy its system,” SpaceX said in its filing with the FCC.
Last year, Musk told Starlink fans that the company’s dishes could be deployed on high-speed moving objects, like trains, which was possible because “everything is slow to a phased array antenna.”
To date, the FCC has authorized SpaceX to roll out a million end-user terminals to transmit data from SpaceX’s constellation.
“These user terminals employ advanced phased-array beam-forming and digital processing technologies to make highly efficient use of Ku-band spectrum resources by supporting highly directive, antenna beams that point and track the system’s low-Earth orbit satellites,” writes SpaceX’s director of satellite policy, David Goldman.
The new applications seeks authorization to operate Earth-deployed stations as “Vehicle-Mounted Earth Stations (“VMESs”), Earth Stations on Vessels (“ESVs”), and Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft (“ESAAs”) (collectively, Earth Stations in Motion (“ESIMs)”.
In other words, planes, trains and automobiles. However, Musk, CEO of electric car maker Tesla, clarified that the automobiles part does not include Tesla vehicles because the terminal – which Musk has described as a like a “little UFO on a stick” measuring 50cm in diameter – are too big for passenger vehicles.
“Not connecting Tesla cars to Starlink, as our terminal is much too big. This is for aircraft, ships, large trucks & RVs,” Musk told CNBC’s Michael Sheetz.
SpaceX’s Goldman argued in a document that it was in the public’s interest to create a new category of ESIMs.
“To support its ambitious timetable for launching and expanding innovative satellite broadband services, SpaceX Services requests that the Commission grant the requested blanket license as expeditiously as possible,” writes Goldman.
He says the service will expand broadband satellite to “moving vehicles, vessels, and aircraft”, which would have terminals that track SpaceX’s satellites.
The public beta has targeted areas in the US with poor or no connectivity. Musk has said SpaceX only intends to serve about 3% of American households. That wouldn’t make it a threat to the likes of Verizon or AT&T, but it could give SpaceX an upper hand against traditional satellite providers that serve cruises, the trucking industry and public transport systems.