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US approves SpaceX’s Starlink Internet for use with ships, boats, planes

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A SpaceX rocket carrying 53 Starlink satellites lifts off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on May 18, 2022.

PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday (June 30) authorised Mr Elon Musk’s SpaceX to use its Starlink satellite Internet network with moving vehicles, green-lighting the company’s plan to expand broadband offerings to commercial airlines, shipping vessels and trucks.

Starlink, a fast-growing constellation of Internet-beaming satellites in orbit, has long sought to grow its customer base from individual broadband users in rural, Internet-poor locations to enterprise customers in the potentially lucrative automotive, shipping and airline sectors.

“Authorising 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,” the FCC said, echoing plans outlined in SpaceX’s request for the approval early last year.

SpaceX has steadily launched some 2,700 Starlink satellites to low-earth orbit since 2019 and amassed hundreds of thousands of subscribers, including many who pay US$110 (S$153) a month for broadband Internet using US$599 self-install terminal kits.

The space company based in Hawthorne, California, has focused heavily in recent years on courting airlines around Starlink for in-flight Wi-Fi, having inked its first such deals in recent months with Hawaiian Airlines and semi-private jet service JSX.

“We are obsessive about the passenger experience,” Mr Jonathan Hofeller, Starlink’s commercial sales chief, said at an aviation conference earlier this month. “We are going to be on planes here very shortly so, hopefully, passengers are wowed by the experience.”

SpaceX, under an earlier experimental FCC licence, has been testing aircraft-tailored Starlink terminals on Gulfstream jets and United States military aircraft.

Mr Musk, the founder and chief executive of SpaceX, previously said the types of vehicles Starlink was expected to be used with, pursuant to Thursday’s authorisation, were aircraft, ships, large trucks and recreational vehicles.

Mr Musk, also the CEO of electric-car maker Tesla, had said he did not see “connecting Tesla cars to Starlink, as our terminal is much too big”.

Competition in the low-earth orbiting satellite Internet sector is fierce between SpaceX, satellite operator OneWeb and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Kuiper project, a unit of e-commerce giant Amazon.com, which is planning to launch the first prototype satellites of its own broadband network later this year.

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