SpaceX is seeking regulatory approval to connect its rapidly growing network of internet-beaming Starlink satellites to cars, trucks, shipping boats, and aircraft. The request, filed last Friday with the Federal Communications Commission, marks SpaceX’s biggest step yet toward connecting Starlink to the automotive sector, a potentially lucrative line of business that would expand the company’s current stationary offerings from rural homes.
The March 5th FCC filing asked for “a blanket license authorizing operation” of Starlink terminals on so-called Earth Stations in Motion — an umbrella term for cars, trucks, maritime vessels, and aircraft. “No longer are users willing to forego connectivity while on the move, whether driving a truck across the country, moving a freighter from Europe to a U.S. port, or while on a domestic or international flight,” the filing read.
Smaller passenger vehicles may have to wait. “Not connecting Tesla cars to Starlink, as our terminal is much too big,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Monday, responding to an article on the FCC filing. “This is for aircraft, ships, large trucks & RVs.”
With over 1,000 satellites in space, SpaceX’s Starlink has at least 10,000 users through an invite-only beta program it started last year. The beta program is currently aimed at rural parts of the US that have little to no internet connectivity. A Starlink kit with an antenna and router costs $499, plus $99 per month for speeds around 70 to 130 Mbps. Last month, SpaceX started accepting refundable $99 Starlink preorders for “a limited number of users per coverage area,” which so far includes parts of the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom.
SpaceX’s request to link Starlink with vehicles didn’t give any details on any new antenna designs, but it said they “are electrically identical to its previously authorized consumer user terminals but have mountings that allow them to be installed on vehicles, vessels and aircraft.” The mobile antennas would fit on the “masts of ships or the tops of semi- trucks” — or, in consumer cases, on “passenger cars or pleasure boats,” another SpaceX filing said. Unlike Starlink’s current terminals, which come with mounts and are installed by the customer, the vehicle antennas will be set up by “qualified installers.”
Throwing a Starlink terminal on a moving vehicle isn’t a surprising move for SpaceX, which last year asked for an experimental FCC permit to operate Starlink terminals on Gulfstream jets. And though Musk played down the prospect of equipping Teslas with Starlink terminals today, he said in an earnings call in January 2020 that “it’s certainly something that could happen in coming years.”
With the new filing, SpaceX now appears to be more focused on their mobile connectivity efforts, hinting that they plan to target their service at “drivers, ship operators, and air travelers in the United States and abroad.” Offering Starlink internet to those customers will “allow operators and passengers to access services that enable increased productivity,” SpaceX said. The filing also mentioned that it would “enhance the security of mobile platforms” but provided no further insights into those plans.