SpaceX applies for authorisation to operate Starlink terminals on ships

Elon Musk’s SpaceX company has made an application to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking a licence to operate mobile satcom terminals connected to its Starlink network – including antennas installed on ships at sea.

The SpaceX application, submitted on March 5th, is seeking a blanket licence covering end-user earth stations for deployment as Earth Stations on Vessels (ESVs), Vehicle-Mounted Earth Stations (VMESs), and Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft (ESAAs).

The submission is asking for authority to be granted to deploy and operate these earth stations in relevant jurisdictions for each earth station type. For vessel-based antennas specifically, this is defined in the application as operation in “the territorial waters of the United States and throughout international waters worldwide.”

These end user terminals would be electrically identical to previously authorised consumer terminals already being operated by commercial users in selected geographic areas, the company notes, but would be adapted with their own mountings for installation onboard ships and other vehicles, based on what is suitable for each environment.

“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 US port, or while on a domestic or international flight. To help meet this demand, SpaceX has deployed an innovative, cost-effective and spectrum-efficient satellite system capable of delivering robust broadband service to customers around the world, particularly in unserved and underserved areas,” SpaceX says, in its FCC application.

“SpaceX has already secured US authority for the space station components of its NGSO (non-geostationary satellite) system. This application takes the next step by seeking authority for [mobile earth stations] that will enable the extension of that network from homes and offices to vehicles, vessels, and aircraft.”

“Operation under the requested blanket licence will promote competition in the market for in-motion broadband services, to the benefit of drivers, ship operators, and air travellers in the United States and abroad. These services will enhance the security of mobile platforms and allow operators and passengers to access services that enable increased productivity.”

The Starlink network currently has more than 1100 satellites in orbit and more than 10,000 users of its broadband service. The company began adding laser crosslink technology to satellites planned for polar orbit at the beginning of this year, and intends to include crosslinks on all satellites to be launched from 2022 onwards.

Crosslinks are a potentially critical component for the maritime sector to power services for users in deep sea areas, where ships may be far away from any of the land-based ground stations required to connect the satellite signals to the wider internet.

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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